Jonah’s Homecoming Talk
September 24, 2017
Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. I’d first like to start off by answering some questions: it feels good to be home, no it’s not weird, and yes, I’m going to college in January. I get those questions from literally everyone, and I’ve probably heard it at least six-hundred fifty-four times, so there’s no need to ask anymore.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to speak before you. I’d hazard a guess at two years and twenty-eight days at least. If anyone checks my math on that I may be horribly wrong. Also, we don’t count this last fast Sunday, because “seventeen days” doesn’t sound as cool.
Anyway, so, many of you may desire to have me remind you where I was called to serve. Many of you could answer those inquiries yourself as well. Although, if you think you could answer to the question as to where I served, I’m willing to bet you’re wrong. You see, you thought I was called to serve in the California Rancho Cucamonga mission, but no, that’s actually wrong. You see I was called to service the Hesperia, California area. Let me paint a picture for you real quick: I had twenty-four months to serve the Lord full-time. Fifteen of those months were spent in one city. In case you still don’t get it, there are eight different zones I could have served in, giving me the chance to most likely never have gone back to the Hesperia A zone, but no, I served there three times. The Lord was like, “Nope, sorry Elder Jensen; that wasn’t good enough. Nope, still not good enough; try again. Nope, you’re bad at this. Just go home.”
And now the, “called to service” line basically means that you do not know weeds until you have tried to liberate a Hesperia backyard. It is bland desert-scape where every person owns one to two acres of land. You have not truly experienced weeding until you’ve weeded a Hesperia yard. Weeds there are more abundant than grass here, and the dirt is so dry and hard that trying to pull a weed out is like trying to rip a stripped screw out of something with your bare hands. However, I was fortunate enough to discover the wonders of a hula hoe—something that probably has no use here in Utah, but saves lives in Hesperia.
However, that’s enough with the dumb jokes. I need to move on. I loved my mission. Hesperia really did become my home away from home. A home I would never, ever want to own property in, but home isn’t where you rest your head, it’s where you rest your heart … or something like that. I don’t really know. Anyway, I’ll probably be talking about my experiences in Hesperia the most just because I only spent so much time in the valley, as opposed to the desert, but I have some awesome experiences from Upland too. I also served in this place called Chino Hills, but it was like, I was there for so short it might have actually been a dream and I actually never even left Hesperia in the first place, so, essentially, not much really happened there.
When I was very first starting out, my trainer and I had white-washed into an area, which means we both came into the area together with little-to-no idea of what it was going to be like and basically nobody to guide us along. The missionaries before us kind of wrote bad whitewash notes (they’re always bad), so we were somewhat lost as to where to go. But, they did tell us to try to visit Cherelle and Bre. So we went and met them, and they were these two big black ladies with some of the biggest hearts you’ve ever met. At first their house was really awkward. It was just us and them, we didn’t realize there would be no male, so we were technically breaking a rule, it was hot (because it was, like, my third day in California), the swamp cooler was blasting in the background and the television was blaring random stuff with totally incoherent color-schemes. It was kind of chaotic, as you can tell—but, we sat down with them on their couches and talked to them for a bit, and basically asked them about themselves and stuff, and then asked them what they expected to get out of meeting with us.
It seemed that in the past, they had had more of a casual relationship with missionaries, so we explained to them that our purpose was to help them come closer to Jesus Christ. Cherelle, whose real name is Lashrelle and nickname is apparently Shrelle, not Cherelle, was excited to be baptized. She told us she had just been waiting and almost got baptized in the past before things went wrong. Bre, whose full name is Breonde Anqunisha Edriz Jackson, which I love so much, was rather hesitant.
To keep a long story short, we went over and taught them every single week for a few weeks, and things began to change. Whenever we came over, they would routinely turn off the television, eliminate as many distractions as possible and sit there and listen with open ears and open hearts to the words of Christ. Their house became more calm, relaxed and happy. As they began to live the commandments of Jesus Christ, a literal form of light could be seen in their life—their countenances just changed. I don’t know how, but they just did. They went from whatever they were before to happy. Truly happy. And let me tell you, the word of God does change people. Bre is a prime example, seeing that whereas she was the most reluctant to be baptized originally, by the end she was so enthralled by the gospel of Jesus Christ that she almost literally could not wait to be baptized. Things continued to come up every single weekend on part of Shrelle that for four or five straight weeks, though they were both ready, they couldn’t be baptized.
Then, finally, the time for baptism came—it was on Halloween, if you can believe it. Pretty sweet. However, Bre had this issue with her earrings and nose rings and lip ring and stuff like that where she didn’t want to give them up. We told her that a prophet has asked us not to wear them as excessively she did, but she didn’t want to get rid of them—so we simply asked her to just take it out at least for the baptism (since you can’t wear that kind of stuff for the ordinance of baptism). So, she reluctantly agreed. Also, side-note, she was a jokester, so she horrified us with probably a thousand things before the date of baptism came, but those aren’t of any importance.
Okay, this short story is becoming long, so let’s make it short again. They got baptized, we kept teaching them the after-baptism lessons, and one day, Bre asked us if we noticed anything different about her. Upon our inobservant man-analysis, she joyfully exclaimed that she had taken out all of her excess body piercings! She said that it just felt “childish”, and that she’s a lot more mature now, and it felt like the right thing to do.
It’s so amazing to me, that story, because as she was obedient to God’s commandments, her heart continued to change, bit by bit. We didn’t need to tell her to take the piercings out—we just had to tell her what the prophet said, and through her worthiness of the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit, she changed ounce by ounce, becoming more and more happy with doing what God asked! And my testimony is that that can happen to us to. As we’re obedient to God’s commands, we will grow to love him more, and we won’t find it burdensome to keep his commandments. It will be something we enjoy.
Later on in my mission, while I was in a city called Upland, we began this contacting goal, where we would try to give out a card to literally everyone we saw and invite them to do something in specific while still keeping it short so we didn’t annoy anyone. One time, though, we were walking along in the more “ghetto” part of our area when we came across his one guy. He seemed to be speaking this strange form of Spenglish or something, so neither of us could really understand him. We could hear halves of words and stuff, but all we were really able to make out was that he wanted money. So my companion decided to get out his wallet and pull out the only five dollars he had (because we don’t really carry cash as missionaries) and offer it to him.
That was when the guy turned it down, and we got really confused. So, he was standing there, trying to communicate to us in some ancient, long-lost language, and we were just super confused. My companion offered him the money again, and he turned it down, and we’re pretty sure he was asking for more money than that. This was all the money we had, and we weren’t quite sure why he was turning down five dollars, and we tried to explain it was all that we had, but he wasn’t content with five dollars. He wanted more money.
I, at this point, decided that we had spent way too much time with this guy to not give him a card. We could’ve handed out, like, five cards at this point—one for every dollar he turned down. We tried to give him a card, but he would not take that either, so I took matters into my own hands. I saw that his jacket pocket was just full of trash and all sorts of other things—they were kind of bulging with trash, it was weird—and figured I might as well use all of my sneak skills and put this card in his pocket. I wasn’t going to let these ten or twenty minutes go to waste. So, he’s talking to my companion in his eldritch tongue, and he’s focused on my companion. My companion glances down at my hand and sees the card, and he gives me a short, confused look, like, “What are you doing?”
I mouthed to him to basically keep the guy distracted, so my companion keeps attempting to converse with him, while I stealthily begin to slip the card into his pocket. My companion’s eyes darted to my actions and you could literally see him about to burst with laughter—and it’s at that moment that the guy is about to turn to look at me … and the card is only halfway in. So, I recoil my hand, but leave the card where it was, and I was just like, “Hey, look, we’ve got to go,” trying to cut the guy off before he feels my reverse pickpocket. But he doesn’t let us leave. He keeps talking.
At this point, my companion is eyes on the card, not even looking at the guy; and that is when this man takes his hands and, in real life slow motion, begins to draw them toward his jacket pockets. We’re trying so hard to cut him off and leave, but he doesn’t stop talking—and then his hand makes contact with the card. My first thought was, “Okay, we’re doomed. This is going to be real awkward,” so I immediately begin thinking of ways to dodge around his questions if he asks about this card. Before I can even finish a stream of thought, though, he feels at the card’s sharp edges … and pushes it deep into his garbage-pockets.
My companion, at this point, was literally going to die from laughter if he had to hold it in any longer, so we forcefully dismissed ourselves as he kept trying to talk to us, and we walked as fast as we possibly could without looking suspicious. Once out of range, my companion and I began suffocating from laughter.
Now, I may have told that story just because I really wanted to tell that story, but I’m going to tie it in, trust me. Later on in Upland, when I had a new companion, I would find that the skills of talking to everybody—and maybe my pickpocketing skills, I’m still not sure—really paid off. So, my companion at this time was Elder Gunnerson—probably the hardest working companion I had—and we had just had a long day. We walked all over the place, and the last of our plans had just fallen through. We were sitting on the doorstep of this less-active who wasn’t home, and we just really didn’t want to go back into the blazing, fiery inferno that is the sun in California (oh, and by the way, half of my mission area was the Mojave desert, which is the hottest desert in the world. And that’s where Hesperia is located. Fun fact). It was then that Elder Gunnerson received a prompting from the Holy Spirit, telling him to take me and go visit a person referred to us by someone else, who lived nearby. This referral, named Shawn, had not worked out many times, and it was definitely not going to work out then, so as Elder Gunnerson describes, he told the Lord, “No, that’s a bad idea; give me another one.”
So, the Lord prompted him again: “Go visit Shawn.”
“C’mon, Lord,” replied my companion mentally, “that’s not gonna’ work. Give me a better idea.”
Then, as the prompting supposedly came to Elder Gunnerson, “Go visit Shawn, you idiot.”
He turned to me and said, “Hey, we should go visit Shawn.”
And so, we went.
Of course, as always happens with promptings, we arrived just in time. We met Shawn’s little son riding his bicycle around outside. The one we thought we were looking for (meaning Shawn) wasn’t there, so we kind of sat down with the kid and talked to him as he showed us cool tricks on his bike. And then, the person we were actually there to meet stepped out of the garage to take this boy and his young friends to the swimming pool: a young black girl named Vanaysha. We began talking to her as she took the kids to the pool, and she was very nice. We asked her if she had ever heard of us, and she said no, so we described what we did as missionaries and all that jazz, then went back to talking casually.
At this point in my mission, my family at home had decided that they should go to Universal Studios without me and go to the Harry Potter exhibit or whatever. Or at least, that was part of their trip. Now me, loving Harry Potter, was sad about this, and it came up in conversation with Vanaysha, so we actually started talking about Harry Potter. We talked for a little while longer until it was time to part ways, and this time I got the prompting to invite her to take the lessons with us; so, I invited her, and she said that she would love to, since she really wanted to know more and be closer to God.
Vanaysha, a few months after I had left Upland, was baptized by immersion for the remission of her sins. It was such a sweet moment, and it wouldn’t have happened if Elder Gunnerson and I weren’t attuned to and obeying the promptings of the Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, obedience to God’s commandments is the most important thing we can learn in life. We all have or will yet learnt that the hard way—some of us may be still learning it the hard way right now—but whatever point you’re at, I would like to invite you to take Heavenly Father’s commandments seriously. He’s your dad, for crying out loud! Listen to him. How many of you are parents who have known what is best for your children, but you have had to sit back and watch them fail because they’re so set in their ways?
How do you think the Lord feels? I’m sure he groans day and night over our stupidity. As Elder Holland said, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.” (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe”, April 2013 General Conference.) So, don’t frustrate him more. Just listen to his council! Heed his words, and he will bless you in ways you cannot imagine, both spiritually and temporally.
Again, in another conference, Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children! It is a plan predicated on the truth ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God.’ (Romans 8:28) So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You”, April 2016 General Conference.)
Brothers and sisters, I promise you in the name of God’s Only Begotten Son that our Heavenly Father loves you. He has the best of things in store for you! The best. He does not want you to fail, and he weeps when you do—but you cannot fail if you will just follow his commandments. I know it’s a trillion times easier said than done, but don’t worry! That’s why we have the Atonement of Jesus Christ! We’re not lost; we’re never lost. We can always keep trying. Just don’t give up, don’t give in, and don’t give ground. Stand your ground, for God, for Jesus Christ, and for the legions of angels who support you. They need you in this fight, and only you can play the role that you do. Nobody else can do it for you. They love you, and they need you. I promise you these things and leave them with you to ponder up in the name of our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.