Monday, January 26, 2015

"A Blessed Day in Every Way" by Elder Phillips

How do I describe a perfect Sabbath day using words that can’t begin to communicate the feelings of my soul?

What led up to this soul-filling, spirit-guided Sabbath Day was the opportunity we had to teach with the sister missionaries. Sister Ferrell and Sister Hugs are two wonderful examples of what you hope all missionaries are like. They had two wonderful Chinese sisters that were in their final preparation for baptism. We’ve known Annie (Yun Shi) for a while and have watched her progress for months. Phyllis Lau also has been brought along beautifully by these two sisters that love them. 

Let me take a second to identify Sister Ferrell’s link to the Phillips Clan. Two of our best friends, Bill and Holly Beifus, are the parents of Sister Ferrell’s best friend Beth Anna. So we’ve been fast friends ever since she walked in the Hyde Park Chapel to serve in the Visitor Center. The Church of Jesus Christ follows us where ever we go and so do our friends and their friends. Because of this relationship I was asked to baptize Phyllis on Thursday night at our dinner that Sister Phillips puts on for 100 of our other best friends (YSA). 

Sister Farrell also asked if we could help teach Annie her last lessons before her baptism. We, of course, were thrilled to serve her. We invited them to our flat to have that discussion. Annie is a brilliant Chinese University student who had come to our flat for our Christmas Eve celebration as an investigator. With Annie’s brilliance comes a need to understand “everything” before she can accept it. That need led to a powerful discussion on how she was going to know enough to be baptized on Sunday. Her normal logical approach to knowing wasn’t giving her the kind of understanding she needed to move forward. We bore our testimony and shared our personal experiences relating to how she could come to know. It became obvious she needed her own personal experience with the scriptures to know Jesus Christ was her Savior and God was his father and ours also. 

What I’ve learned teaching the Chinese over the last year is that they worship at the altar of knowledge. We take for granted that God exists and Jesus did exactly what he said he did. The Bible records his life and sacrifice and we accept that. Now take God out of the picture and any belief in his existence or need for him. This is the Chinese’ starting point. They are some of the finest people on the earth but they don’t have an understanding of God or his plan for them. So there we were with this fantastic, bright young women expressing her doubts regarding God and his Son.

I have learned that this isn’t our work nor could I teach her the language that she needed to learn literally overnight (this lesson was on Friday and her baptism was scheduled for Sunday), the language of the Spirit. Hearing the voice of the Lord through the Spirit and learning the Father’s language is such a foreign concept to them. If they can’t prove it the way they’ve been taught it becomes very challenging for them to accept the Gospel Message. So what do you do? I knew she had to read the scriptures to hear His voice. I asked her to read 2 Nephi Chapter 2 and come back on Saturday and teach us what she learned about what the Savior did for her (This chapter has one of the most beautiful Atonement explanations in the scriptures). She agreed to do this and we set an appointment for 10:30 am at the Hyde Park Chapel. Annie closed our meeting with a prayer and a commitment to do her best.

Saturday morning came quickly and we met in the Public Relations Meeting Room in the Hyde Park Chapel. We were excited to have Annie teach and were praying that her experience of having to study the doctrine of the Atonement would give her the faith she needed to take the next step in her spiritual progression. We all understood that she needed her own personal relationship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. She did a wonderful job identifying important doctrine that if true had obvious implications regarding her being baptized Sunday. I marvel at the depth of the questions the Chinese ask and the unique perspective they bring, given their cultural upbringing. It’s always a profound experience to answer questions that we have never even considered, given our assumptions about Deity. I love what we know and understand about the Plan of Happiness. We have no idea how grateful we should be that we have a Christian background as our starting point.

These Chinese young people are the modern-day pioneers going off to strange lands and coming back to China with life changing perspective and knowledge different than anything they’ve ever known before. We love and respect these young Chinese willing to leave their beliefs or lack of belief about God behind so they can move forward to a better life. It’s astounding the courage and faith they exhibit by walking into the waters of baptism and coming out to a new way of life.

That’s exactly what Annie and Phyllis did on Sunday. It was my privilege to be able to baptize these two extraordinary women and bring them unto Christ (because of the work of two great sister missionaries).

Now I want to also recognize the great job Elder Cook and Elder Chio did with Matthew Coates, a 19-year-old university student that was also baptized into our ward Sunday. In the process of getting dressed to be baptized Matt and I got to know each other. He is a 19-year-old Catholic that found the truth he was looking for. He shared with me that he’d only lived in two places in his life. He told me as he prayed to know what Church to join he kept almost literally running into God’s Temple. I choose to believe that this young man is loved by the Father and has a powerful destiny in His Church. He bore testimony to me that it was no coincidence that as he prayed at home to find the truth he would keep passing by the Preston Temple and when he went away to University he kept passing by the London Temple. He knew that he needed to know more about them because he felt them calling him home. Oh what a sweet homecoming we had with Matt on this great Sabbath Day.

Okay how could it get any better? Well, it did!

We had an after baptism party for our three newest members and a going away party for Danielle who is leaving today to go back to China. It was wonderful to see all the support our Britannia Ward gave to them after a full day of attending church meetings. So after about 60 YSA had eaten all the food and we’d put the chairs and tables away I saw one of my Britannia boys beckoning me over to where he was standing.

Franklin is one of my favorite Brazilian young men who came to Britannia several months ago after being inactive. He has made wonderful progress so I was sad and concerned when he told me he wanted to say goodbye because he was leaving for the next three month on a long vacation to Italy. He asked me to stay in touch with him during his visit to Italy so he would stay on track and not be tempted into chasing any beautiful Italian girls. He’s a very handsome boy and has Italian heritage. Hence he is going to Italy to get his citizenship so he can become part of the European Union. He was schedule to leave today, Monday, as soon as his critical papers arrived from Brazil.

Well I was sad but happy that he was going to achieve this very important goal for himself. We are good friends. All of sudden Franklin lowered his voice to a very sacred whisper which made me take notice.

He asked, “Elder Phillips can I baptize with the priesthood that I hold?”  

I looked at him a bit surprised by the questions because it just didn’t go along with him leaving for three months. “Yes Franklin, you hold the same Priesthood that John the Baptist used to baptize Jesus” I replied.

He started to tear up and then said, as he pointed to his Brazilian friend Rodrigo, “I want to baptize him.”

I asked, “Franklin has he had the missionary lesson?” 

He answered, “Yes.”

Then he went on to explain how much he loves Rodrigo but he was leaving tomorrow for three months. I looked over at Rodrigo and just felt like I should involve him in this discussion. I called Rodrigo over and told him that Franklin wanted to know if he could baptize him.  To our surprise and delight his answer was, “YES!”

“Now I have to ask you if you’re ready to let him baptize you?”

He said, “I have been praying about this all week because I knew Franklin was leaving and I’ve been asking is this the time. After watching these baptisms today I realize I am ready to be baptized.”

Franklin was stunned. I only had one question. Is the baptismal font still full?

I realized I had to get the Assistants who had been teaching him to get an interview done and a day set up to baptize this great young man ASAP. I told Franklin and Rodrigo to wait and I’d be right back. Now understand I’m great friends with Elder Torres and Elder Anderson, the two assistants that were teaching him. I ran out of the Cultural Hall and asked the sister missionaries where Elder Torres was? They said he’d just gone up the stairs. I ran to the stairs and yelled up for Elder Torres.

He answered and said, “What’s wrong Elder Phillips?”

I shouted back, “Nothing’s wrong!! Just rapido! Rapido!!! Rodrigo is ready to be baptized!!!!”

As Elder Torres, our wonderful Brazilian AP, ran down the stairs after hearing this news he had tears in his eyes and was overcome by the spirit. He stood in disbelief as I explained what had happened. He raced to Rodrigo’s side and was beyond excited for him. Rodrigo only had one problem. He was not going to ask Franklin to stay if his papers arrived the next day that would allow him to leave.  He thought it would be God’s will to wait until Franklin got back in three months to be baptized.

I replied, “Please let Franklin make that choice.”

I turned to Franklin and asked him what he wanted to do. He got teary and answered that he didn’t care about the papers or even missing his plane. He just wanted to be here to baptize his friend.

Franklin said, “Let’s do it next Sunday so the entire ward can be there to support him.”

Franklin, who never served a mission, will be able to baptize for the first time a young man he loves and has been able to teach with the missionaries. Franklin has truly been a missionary to Rodrigo. He was overcome with emotion and excitement.

Elder Torres took over and Rodrigo was interviewed last night and we’ll be attending another baptism next Sunday.

I was overwhelmed with the peace and joy that I was feeling after a day of fasting and feasting. This is a day of miracles and we get to see them almost every day as missionaries for the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am so beyond grateful to be serving with the best companion I have ever had or will ever have who stands right beside me.  Elder Phillips

Brad Wilcox, the Temple, and Farewell to Emily Du

This can only be a short blog since I have one hour until I have to get ready for church. We have just finished such a sweet weekend at the temple, along with Brad Wilcox last weekend. I need to record it before it’s lost.

Brother Brad Wilcox

On Fast Sunday two weeks ago we had such a beautiful testimony meeting. Toward the end an older guy that was sitting at the back of the chapel came forward to bear his testimony. Immediately I recognized it was Brad Wilcox from America. He told us that he and his wife had been assigned to be over the Student Abroad program in Spain and he was here in London so our BYU Program Director Jim Faulkner could train him. He was here in London for the next two weeks with his wife. He bore a beautiful testimony.

After the meeting I was out with some of our older YSA in the foyer when he came out. I called to him and said, “Brother Wilcox you need to know that your talk “His Grace is Sufficient” is required reading for anyone who comes to our Institute Class on Tuesday night.” Then I thanked him for the deep spiritual impact that talk had on every student (and adult!) who read it. He sat down with us and began to just chat

I introduced him to the 3 girls I was sitting with, all 28-year-olds. These girls are beautiful, educated and articulate. And very discouraged. That’s where our conversation led; what we can do to hold on to our young adults when they age out of YSA. We have a number of unmarried kids that fade away when they get to about 29 and older. It just seems to them that there’s not much of a place for them in the church.

He assured us that the brethren are VERY aware of what’s happening and although the wheels turn slowly, it was being considered and addressed. Brother Wilcox’s love and concern was very evident. He was just a big love-bug, such a darling man. He made our girls feel treasured. It was a very sweet exchange and gave us all hope that their plight was not going unnoticed.

The next weekend was full of Brother Wilcox and music from the YSA. Our bishop had asked Jim to talk in Sacrament Meeting about holding on, doubting our doubts before our faith. When Jim heard that Bishop had asked Brother Wilcox to also talk Jim told Bishop Rick to give him his time, as well.

What a beautiful Sacrament is was. Brother Wilcox gave such a powerful talk on the Prophet Joseph Smith and bore a mighty testimony of him. It really touched the kids in the audience. I then had one of our girls (who is leaving this week for the states. I have grown to love this girl. Her name is Lizzy House. She’s a textile fabric designer who is beautifully quirky and so talented. She’s a total hippy, but totally authentic and converted. I’m truly going to miss her!) Anyway, she also sings and I had her do “Feel the Fire”. The words were absolutely aligned with Bro. Wilcox’s message. No one moved. The spirit just filled the chapel. It was beautiful.

Between our meetings and a Multi-stake Fireside later that night we had a Munch and Mingle so the kids wouldn’t have to go home to eat. Then Brother Wilcox gave a fireside to 500 youth and YSA from all over the UK. It was packed! I’ve never seen that many kids in one place on our mission. I had Robin and Katie do “Abide With Me”. It was beautiful but not as good as Tanner and Meg. (It made me miss them.) Once again Bro. Wilcox delivered a powerful lesson on the why of keeping commandments. He is such a MASTER TEACHER!!! On top of that you can just feel the love oozing out of him for the kids. His wife is right there with him. It was an amazing Sabbath day. Jim and I were filled with gratitude that we got to be a part of it. (The benefit of being at Hyde Park Chapel in London England!!!)

Emily Du, Helen Chen and the Temple!

This weekend we had a temple assignment to do baptisms on Friday night. Jim and I decided that we would offer to spend the night and have anyone who wanted to stay over go do an endowment session the next morning.

Friday afternoon we had a going away luncheon for our precious Emily Du. Emily was baptized only a couple weeks before we arrived so we have been able to watch her this year as she has gone through the process of digging her roots and strengthening her testimony of the gospel. She has been in London doing a Master Program that she just finished and now is returning to China. 

I’ve been deeply touched as I’ve watched her do EVERYTHING in her power to strengthen her testimony against the obstacles she will face at home. Her mother, who has been a marvelous support to Emily, is a member of the Communist Party. It’s not going to be an easy thing for Emily to live the gospel there. I can’t tell you how much I adore this young woman. I have sat back and marveled watching her bloom. She has been one of our stalwart Institute goers on Tuesday nights and one of the best missionaries in Britannia. She is always bringing friends to church and teaching with the Elders and Sisters. She is one of our brightest lights. I adore her! I cry every time I think about her leaving us.

She was able to come for a couple hours to our flat before we had to leave to catch the tube and then a train for the temple. Emily was so excited for the temple because she had temple cards for her Grandfather. She was driven to get their work done before she returned to China.

When we got to Victoria Station where everyone was meeting to ride to the temple (about an hour) I was shocked to see a huge crowd of kids waiting to go. (We ended up with 45 at the temple) We even had Chillie, a new convert, going for her first time to do baptisms. It was marvelous. When we arrived at the temple I think we really stressed out our poor temple workers with the number of kids. 

Three of our Chinese had brought family names to be done It was a deeply moving experience to watch as their ancestors were baptized. It was especially moving when our very own Dixon batized Emily's grandfather and was able to do it in Chinese. Poor Emily lost it.  I was on one side, Sister White on the other as she sobbed over now having others, beside herself, in the gospel of Christ. 

There were about 6 kids, besides Jim and I that stayed over. We stayed up way too late, but it was sweet. We were able to get to really know some kids we hadn't had a chance to before.

We took Emily's, Helen's and Maggie's family file cards and kept them with us overnight. The next morning Jim and Helen got up early and went and did Initiatories so that when we did our endowment session with the others we were able to finish the temple work for these people. Emily was able to take her grandpa home,fully endowed with all his ordinances in place. It was a beautiful experience.

Our going away party for Emily where her dear, dear friend Diana (sitting next to Emily in the white shirt) made this truly amazing video for Emily to take home to China with all of us saying our farewells. Such a bittersweet night with an outpouring of love from our whole ward!

It's now Jan. 27th. Emily left a week ago today. 

This past Sunday Jan. 25 (Shelby's birthday) was a day of miracles. Jim has written all about in the following blog. It's the kind of day that makes our hearts burst in gratitude for the privilege of serving here in Britannia.

Danielle Peiyan Xiu
Giving loves and saying goodbye to Danielle with our beloved Helen!
As part of the celebration Sunday night there was a farewell to another of our precious Chinese. Danielle was actually baptized in another stake, but has been with us for several months. In that time she also has become a part of our hearts. She is so valiant, such an amazing missionary and the best friend to me that I could ever ask for. Do you see why there is so much trauma around these kids leaving us? It breaks my heart! In reality the chances of ever seeing them again in this life are slim. But I truly have assurance that we will meet again. So until we meet again....God be with them!

This letter just came today from Danielle who just arrived in China. It is such a perfect example of why you just have to love them so much!

Dear Sister & Elder Phillips !!!!!

How are you doing !!!!! hope everything goes great !!!!
I am back home today and start to miss you two !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, everything goes great when I back home, the sky is so clear today in
beijing hahahahahha, I know Heavenly Father loves me so much !!!! He is
happy I am back.

Well, this Monday After I checked in the airport, I went to the pray room,
I did pray and read so long time. I love being alone talk with my Heavenly
Father. when I started to praying, I cant stop tearing, full of gratitude
joys, excitements and loves. I am so thankful my dear Heavenly Father, his
plan made me experience enormously in the UK. I am so thankful !!!!! I am
so thankful HE introduced you two to me and as you are soososos GREAT
couple !!!!!!

I learned so much from your strong faith, superb stories and your
wonderful, amazing testimonies !!!!!!  I am so missing your classes now!!!
(hold on, it is tomorrow, well cant attend but will pray for you !!!!!)

My lovely Sister Phillips, Thanks so much  for your wonderful cookies, i
kept one for my mum, she loves it so much ! and she ask me to say great
thanks to you !!!!!

I promise you will stay strong and keep doing all the commandment, hahah
definitely will report to you when I am back to see you !!!!!

Forever Love you my Sister& Elder Phillips, take care of yourselves !!!!!!

With Love,

Emily's First Day at Church with her Mom

At the party Sunday night Dixon came up to me and said he'd just received an email from Emily. He reported that she had found a branch in her city, small with only about 25 people in it. Her mom had consented to go with Emily. Emily was so nervous but her comment was "I heard the same words there that I had heard in Britannia. The church is true everywhere." Emily was able to bear her testimony and when a woman gave the closing prayer she gave thanks for the new "returned missionary" that had joined their branch. (We trained her well!) Emily set her straight. On the way home from church her mom wanted to stop and get some food items for dinner. Emily shared her belief of keeping the Sabbath day holy and about not buying on Sunday. Her mom decided to skip shopping. Later Emily asked her mom if she thought she'd ever join the church. When Dixon shared this with all of us at the party we started to cry. Her mom said "I'm not ready now, but it's only a matter of time." CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!!!! This woman has been so precious in supporting her daughter through this past year. Yet here she is being influenced and supported herself, right into the church. We all knew what this would mean to Emily. Such rejoicing!!!

Marita (the girl from Latvia who gave me her keyboard) brought a cake on Thursday to celebrate Elder Phillips birthday. Marita only knows how to do one thing for us; SERVE!!!! She's been a member for only a few months. We adore her!