Sunday, February 19, 2012

Personal Revelation 101

As I have already blogged on "practical spirituality," I have some healthy skepticism caution even within my own religious tradition. For me, spirituality has to mean something even if I sometimes have to wait patiently to understand that meaning. Until then, I've learned to be quiet about it. While respecting the claims of personal revelation of others, I tend to remain skeptical because I've learned to be cautious with my own.

I can best explain with another example from my own missionary record. First, the context-- As explained in my piece about the MTC dedication, I spent some extra time there in what was then the LTM or Language Training Mission. And that was somewhat of a disappointment. After our scheduled eight weeks of intensive language training and memorization of missionary discussions, four of our district of eleven elders left for Portugal. We remaining seven were left waiting for our visas to go to Brazil.

It was especially galling because while those were four great elders heading off to Portugal, they seemed pretty much the least prepared of our group. They had struggled with the language and passed off few discussions. One of them had even tried to run away from the LTM. We wished them the best and hunkered down to practice the discussions we'd already passed off and work on our humility and patience. The broken heart was a given.

Then, I had a dream . . .
Wednesday, September 15, 1976. Yes, I missed a few days.  (Just one.)  Great things are happening, but I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out yet.  For this I’ll wait to tell the whole story.
Thursday, September 16, 1976. Pretty good.  I think I’ve got my confusion straightened out.  I need to pray more.
Friday, September 17, 1976. I’ll write Sunday if I don’t get a chance until then.
Saturday, September 18, 1976. I feel good today.  I will tell my story tomorrow. . . .
I am working hard reviewing the discussions at this time.  I want to go to Brazil badly, but I know I have plenty to keep me busy here.
I need to repent more.
Sunday, September 19, 1976. Today was a good day.  I worked really hard and accomplished a lot.  I need to do a lot more.  And I will do a lot more. I have a goal this week to at the end of the week I will be able to pass off a discussion almost perfect.   
I’ll tell my story now.  I had a dream a few nights ago that my German teacher from last year was teaching us português and told me to learn German along with it.  I wondered about the dream, thought it was strange.  I worried a little and then a lot.  I prayed and the Lord really thrilled me as I received the idea.  If I learn português (discussions etc.) why couldn’t He help me learn German also?  I don’t know when the time will come, but I know if I work as hard the Lord will help me learn German also.  I hope (and it won’t be too hard) that if may happen during my mission.  I know it would be a great privilege, opportunity and duty to learn the discussions in German!!  I’m going to work hard for this.  I pray it will happen.  It is the greatest thing!  I had no desire to learn German until after I learned the discussions.  Now I do have that desire and will work for it as the Lord guides me.  I know it will be difficult.  It is also a good way that satan could get to me.  But I will do things right.  I talked to Pres. White and he advised me to wait until I really understand Port. well in the field and then I could learn the discussions in German.  He did it in Spanish.  He also said that sometimes the Mission Pres. calls elders to do such.  I won’t seek for a call, but I sure will be ready for it if it comes.
And my letter home that week:

Dear Family, 

I’m having a hard time waking up this morning. The clothes are in the wash and I feel like I am too.

No word on visas, but then I’m pretty lucky. There are some going on 15 weeks and others in Toronto and Boston waiting too. They’ll all come but we don’t know when. Elder [James E.] Faust (Regional Rep. for Brazil) says he can’t understand it. He knew they were all processing, but somewhere something (or someone) is holding them up. Probably deliberately. Who knows?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. We have a teacher again. Pres. Pinegar likes us so he ordered teachers for the overtimers. But we have to share with a district 3 weeks ahead of us. It’s really a blessing to have a teacher again. We are trying to work hard, but you can imagine how hard it is to learn a language by individual study. With a teacher, we can do so much more.

We are going to the Temple today to a regular session and then to do sealings. I’m kind of excited.

I had a dream the other night about German. I got really excited about the language again. And it’s kind of funny because I have forgotten everything (or at least can’t remember past my português). And I haven’t worried about it or had much desire for it now. I talked to my branch pres. and he said that maybe I will have the opportunity of a calling to learn the discussions in German after I learn português well from my mission pres.!! That gives me such a challenge to work hard now. I’m convinced I’m going to be ready and I really feel that if I am ready he’ll give me the opportunity. Pres. White told me about all the German towns in my mission and that they do call elders to learn discussions in German after they get in the field. The Lord’s really great. He has this all figured out. If he called me to Germany he knew it would be easy for me to pick up the discussions and language like a snap. But he’s given me the challenge and opportunity to learn an unknown tongue then if I do will with that he’ll give me the chance to learn both. Challenge after Challenge. We’ll have to see what’s going to happen. But I am working hard.

This is really great to stay because it gives such good opportunities (that’s a rough word, we use it a lot in the discussions and the Português word is similar enough I can’t remember the English!)

Great blessings of staying:

1. I can perfect the discussions to be ready to give any of them the minute I arrive.

2. I can learn so much more of the language. Although I would learn more if in Brazil right now, I can certainly learn a lot more basic grammar rules and get some practice here to be better prepared for those first few weeks of shock.

3. I can go to the Temple more.

4. I can be with so many great missionaries. My companions, district and all my friends here.

5. I am closer to home (you still have 2 phone calls coming for the visa and from the airport. Maybe I can call at Christmas too! (let’s hope not)

6. I am having fun and enjoying it although sometimes it is hard.

7. I’m eating good food (still healthy. I don’t know how long until the diarrhea bites after arriving in Brazil.)

8. I can have great devotionals with all kinds of inspired leaders including apostles and prophets.

9. We have a great physical fitness program. I never told you about that. It’s the roughest work out I have ever had in my life, but I really enjoy it now. The first few days of the program (about 6 weeks ago) the whole LTM was walking around with bodies so sore we couldn’t even kneel to pray. But know I really enjoy it. The greatest thing is I run for about ½ hr. Part of that instead of playing volleyball, with my friend from Inglemoor, Elder R---. We talk about everything good, bearing our testimonies, talking about the work and all kinds of exciting stuff that really lifts me up.

10. There’s a chance I might see ---- or ---- (ha! ha! can’t guess which one’s first.) I’ve seen lots of people, but not them. Oh well. I am getting some letters now.

As you can see there are some good reasons for being here. There are a lot more too. Another important one is humility and patience. I hope this has helped you. It helps me to realize these things. Everything’s great! It seems I’m working harder and harder but I’ve still so much to do. Thank you for your love and support.

There was a little more to this story. I had studied German in Junior High and High School and took an accelerated course for first and second year in my freshman year of college. I had always wanted to go to Germany, at least Europe, on a mission. But I was never disappointed with the call to Brazil and never even thought about German until I found myself stuck in the LTM without a visa.

I was initially so charged by my dream that I shared it with my companions (I was in a companionship of three). They seemed impressed and went with me as I marched down to President Pinegar's office to inform him that as I had finished my eight weeks and passed off all the discussions, I was now ready to learn them in German. My memory gets a little cloudy at this point, but I don't think we saw President Pinegar. Someone instructed me that I needed to talk to my own LTM Branch President.

I later purchased a copy of the discussions in German and carried them with me to Brazil. I never had the opportunity to teach with them. I met a few German-speaking people, especially when I served in Novo Hamburgo which did on rare occasion seem like I was in a set from The Sound of Music. I even shared a few words in German with a few Brazilians of German heritage. It was a good ice breaker.

When I was transferred from Novo Hamburgo, I left those discussions behind. And I kept with me the spiritual caution to check my personal revelations against common sense and respect for established priesthood authority.

After my mission, I saw my German teacher from my freshman year. I thanked him for teaching me how to learn a language. I explained that the skills I gained in his class helped me to learn Portuguese so well that I hit the ground running once I finally got to Brazil. Well, the extra time in the LTM certainly helped too. The Lord moves in mysterious gifts of tongues.

1 comment:

  1. I had a similar experience with the exact same language. I studied German from elementary school through high school (although I was never more than conversational), and had hoped to go to Germany on my mission. I was very surprised when I was called to Chile and instructed to learn Spanish. My German training helped with learning Spanish, and I did a little to keep up on my German throughout my stay at the MTC. I even went so far as to buy a German Book of Mormon (Das Buch Mormon). I corresponded with my German teacher from High School, but focused on learning Spanish. I didn't think much of my German until about 18 months into my mission when I happened upon a German-speaking inactive member at lunch at a member's house. We spoke a little and I promised to bring by my German BoM later that day. When I returned, she had left, so I ended up carrying the book with me the rest of the day. Later that afternoon, I ran into another person who was on holiday from Germany and spoke little Spanish. I used my limited German to introduce him to the gospel and left him with my Das Buch Mormon. That was the only time I ran into any German speakers on my mission, which makes me think that it was more than just a coincidence. However, like you, I am skeptical of my own revelations.


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