Monday, January 30, 2017

Weekly Update~ "School of the Priestood"

Dear Family and Friends,

This week was another solid week in Nsambya with Elder Chifamba! I'm beginning to ease myself in and got my first Sunday in the new ward under the belt. This week was full of many more meetings, but we took advantage of the time we had. The thing I love most about Elder Chifamba is his anxious desire to have his line in the water no matter what we are doing. 
It seems like I just can't get away from Rwanda! We taught two Rwandese this week, there is a Rwandese member in the ward, and Sister Cecille, the R.S president from K2 was at church yesterday because she is visiting her daughters in Nsambya just down the road. Obviously I welcome any opportunity I have to speak my limited, broken Ikinyrwanda and the people enjoy it just as much as I do. Occasionally I find myself speaking Ikinyarwanda phrases I knew to kids and other people passing on the street and they look back at me with a blank, confused look on their faces...I'll learn eventually.

I came back to Uganda and it seems like nowadays I see President and Sister Collings every day. After Stake Conference and Mission Leader Conference last week, this week we had a worldwide missionary conference where there were some changes made to the daily schedule and key indicators. We also had interviews on Friday and had a good talk with President on how we can continue to progress the work in the Nsambya ward specifically. Then on Sunday evening, we were invited over to the mission home for dinner with one of our recent converts and his family. Last Saturday, President and Sister Collings came to our area and spent the morning proselyting with us and we decided to visit a man by the name of Yves. He and his wife are Burundese refugees and have been living in Uganda for a little over a year. They are both journalists and right now is not the greatest time to be a journalist in Burundi. They told us of a story when they were fleeing the country and were being shot at by individuals on bikes as they were approaching the border. They have had their fair share of struggles but many people have reached out and have helped them as they've struggled to keep their heads above water including the former bishop (now stake president) of the ward. President was able to help us in a wonderful lesson about the importance of paying tithing and we really felt the spirit. Yesterday evening was a wonderful experience because the wife came with us and we haven't had the opportunity of sharing the gospel with her yet but I know this experience planted a strong seed in her heart.
As I've gone through another transfer and am now working with a new companion, I have been contemplating a lot on the thought of how mission is a completely unique experience in learning and understanding life, especially with an eternal perspective. This story from "Learning from the Priesthood" from Pres. Eyring caught my eye in my studies this week: 

Not only should you be eager to learn your priesthood lessons in this life, but you should be optimistic about what is possible. few of us may limit in our minds our possibilities to learn what the Lord sets before us in His service.
One young man left his little Welsh village in the early 1840s, heard the Apostles of God, and came into the kingdom of God on earth. He sailed with the Saints to America and drove wagon west across the plains. He was in the next company after Brigham Young coming into this valley. His priesthood service included clearing and breaking ground for farm.
He sold the farm for pennies on the dollar to go on mission for the Lord in the deserts of what is now Nevada to take care of sheep. He was called from that to another mission across the ocean in the very village he had left in his poverty to follow the Lord.
Through it all, he found way to learn with his priesthood brethren. Bold missionary that he was, he walked down the lane in Wales to the summer estate of man who was four times the prime minister of England to offer him the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The great man let him into his mansion. He was graduate of Eton College and of Oxford University. The missionary talked with him about the origins of man, the central role of Jesus Christ in the history of the world, and even the fate of nations.
At the end of their discussion, the host declined the offer to accept baptism. But as they parted, that leader of one of the great empires of the world asked the humble missionary, “Where did you get your education?” His answer: “In the priesthood of God.”
You may have thought at one time how much better your life would have been if only you had been admitted to study in some fine school. pray that you will see the greatness of God’s love for you and of the opportunity He has given you to enter His priesthood school.
I know that I am in a department in this Priesthood school right now learning valuable lessons that will bless both myself and my posterity for the eternities. I have thought deeply and with gratitude how perfect God's plan is in putting us in situations and with people who help you learn particular lessons that can't be learned any other way. Elder Grant once shared a thought with me and referred to the Mosaic Law that required people who went through the temple in Old Testament times to stay in the temple after their endowment for a full week so they could contemplate the covenants they made with their Heavenly Father and understand more fully what they mean. Often times people confuse the reason why we go to the temple before our missions. Sometimes they think we go to the temple to prepare for our missions, but in reality, it's backwards. We go on missions to prepare to live our covenants we made in the temple more fully for the rest of the eternities. Truly our Heavenly Father is merciful in giving us two years to live consecrated lives devoted entirely to him and his work. As young adults living in a world with so much temptation and so much pressure to not live according to the standards we've been raised upon, the timing of doing so is so crucial. I'm grateful for each and every one of my companions, areas, and the people who have been put in my path. I know without a doubt God has a hand in my life and am grateful he cares so much about me as an individual, that he has me enrolled in the school of the Priesthood and has and will continue to put me into the best situation possible for me to succeed and live with him again.

Going Away Party for Missionaries Leaving Rwanda

I love you all,
Elder Hazen

Monday, January 23, 2017

Weekly Update~ "Back to the Motherland!"

Dear family and friends,

Well, after a long 9 and a half months, I'm back to the motherland...UGANDA!   After stepping off the plane and feeling a cool breeze blowing in off Lake Victoria, it felt so good to be home. I am currently serving in the Nsambya ward, which is neighbors to the Kololo ward I began my mission in. I drive by the old area I proselyted in nearly every day and it brings back sweet memories. It hasn't been easy adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, but I'm slowly adjusting. Our area has every restaurant desirable to a missionary including another Mexican food place, the American Embassy, and a gym that I've hit up every morning with my companion. My new companion is Elder Chifamba from Zimbabwe. 
We actually began our missions the same day and went through our new missionary orientation together so, we are stoked to be serving together. He is incredible at finding, I have never met new investigators so easily in such a short span of time. With his skills in finding and the skills I developed in teaching for commitment in Rwanda, I can already tell we are going to have success and have set some pretty ambitious goals for our transfer together. We are serving in a long-established, organized ward. It's been a unique experience for me because I haven't served in a ward since my second transfer.  On Thursday, one of the ward missionaries spent all day working with us and was teaching with us in unity and wasn't missing a beat. I was absolutely astounded and couldn't be more excited moving forward.

I have been overwhelmed at meeting all the missionaries I haven't seen in a year and that I have never met. I had a sweet reunion with the Lugazi district at Mission Leader Conference and Stake Conference. Long story short, things have been wonderful. 

Yesterday, I had the unique experience of being part of another historical step forward in the church here in Uganda, as I witnessed the Uganda Kampala Stake be split in two. Elder S. Mark Palmer of the 70 was the presiding general authority. 

Throughout the day, I was so impressed and amazed at how quickly the church continues to progress and grow in this mission. It has been less than two years since the Jinja stake was organized and there could be additional stakes coming in the future. Though I have not met any of the men who were called by the Lord to serve in the Stake Presidency, after hearing them and their wives bear testimony, I know the Kampala South Stake is built upon a strong foundation of members who understand their covenants and what service really is. There was a particular line from someone's testimony that stuck out to me and clicked in my head, The gentleman said, "The best way to learn the Gospel of Jesus Christ is in the service of others". This made so much sense to me because truly, I haven't seen my testimony grow more than in the time I've spent serving others on my mission, especially in leadership responsibilities. I know the Lord knows each of us personally and gives us the opportunities to serve so we can learn the things we need to to become like our Savior. Truly there is no better way to become like the Savior than do what the Savior dedicated his life to do. Once again, and forevermore, I am grateful to be a missionary. 

I love you all,

Elder Hazen

Monday, January 16, 2017

Weekly Update~ "End of An Era"

Dear Family and Friends,

First of all, thank you so much to all those who have reached out and expressed their condolences to my family in regard to Grandma Melendez. We miss her dearly and the love is appreciated. With all the perspective I've gained on my mission about this gospel, I am completely at peace with everything. Yes, I'm extremely sad I wasn't able to see her again, but I know where she is and I will see her again! I have complete trust and confidence in that gospel truth!

Today marks the end of an era. We received transfer news today and I am finally heading back to Uganda to finish the remainder of my mission. It has been the best 9 1/2 months of my life with greatest companions, districts, members, and memories. I could literally spend all night talking about how wonderful this stretch has been.

In the dedicatory prayer of Rwanda for missionary work, there is a particular part that sticks out to me. In the middle of the prayer, Elder Holland says, "We pray for the missionaries that will yet come, that they will be inspired in their rendezvous with destiny. Truly that destiny and the future is bright."  I know without a doubt that it was determined in the pre-earth life that I would be called to serve in the particular country of Rwanda at this particular time; a time filled with so much excitement, innovation, development, and hope of the future. I have seen so many wonderful miracles and individuals come exponentially closer to our Savior Jesus Christ as they've taken their first steps on their covenant path back to our Father in Heaven. I have done nothing to bring these things to pass, glory be to the Father that I have been able to participate in the conversion process as a tool in his hands. I know that Rwanda truly will be a beacon, an example to the rest of the continent of Africa as prophesied by Elder Holland. 

(Saying His Goodbyes to His Friends in Rwanda)

I am excited to serve in Kampala again, in a stake that will be organized this coming Sunday. I know the Lord has great things in store for me and I am looking to give him my all these remaining months. 

In the mean time before I update you all next week, enjoy these pictures taken at Akagera National Park at our zone last hurrah today. We finally found our elephant. 

I love you all,

Elder Hazen

Monday, January 9, 2017

Weekly Update~ "Families Can Be Together Forever"

Dear Family and Friends,
Guardian Angels
There is not a doubt in my mind that there were two guardian angels helping and inspiring certain people Elder Grant and I taught this week. We had the most success I've ever had in a week on my mission, getting the opportunity to share 30 lessons, and inviting over 10 new individuals to investigate the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of all, my testimony of the plan of salvation has increased immensely. But before I talk about that, I'd like to share some neat experiences.

On Friday, President Collings came to do some interviews and reorganize the Branch Presidency in K1. He expressed a desire to spend more time with the missionaries this visit, so he, Elder Grant, and I planned to wake up at 5:30 Saturday morning, pick him and K1 up, and play basketball at the court for an hour. In the afternoon, he called Elder Grant and I up after some interviews and expressed a desire to come work with us all afternoon. We picked him and Sister Collings up and they took us to lunch. After, we went to two new investigator lessons and an interview we were present for. The biggest thing I took away from spending time with President is how in tune with the Spirit he is. It literally radiates from his being and people are certainly attracted to it. He told Elder Grant in his interview that he just loves to minister to people. I saw that in action and it was a beautiful thing to see true charity in action as he talked to people and complimented them, and showed love. Saturday was one of the best days of my mission.

 About two and a half weeks ago, Evangele gave us referrals to one of his friends. We taught them the Restoration and had a few solid discussions, but mostly put Evangele in charge of teaching and reviewing with them to make sure they understood the lessons completely. Last Sunday, Sam, one of their friends came to church after being invited by Job and Eric. We taught him the restoration during second hour and enjoyed church so much. He told us that he's attended many churches, but this was the first time he has felt peace in his heart attending church. The next day at Family Home Evening, Sam brought his friend Ismael and it just so happened that we were watching Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. They enjoyed it so much, and Ismael invited us to come to his home so he could introduce us to his family. The next day, Tuesday morning, we began by sharing a lesson with Job and Eric. From there, Evangele and Job came with us to share with Sam. After finishing with them, we all moved to Ismael's home where we were able to introduce ourselves to his siblings. There is so much to be said about this group of young men and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for them because all of them are looking to be baptized the same day.

After sharing the Plan of Salvation with them on Thursday morning, Elder Grant and I were heading to lunch when I got a call from President Collings. Elder Grant answered the phone and talked to him for a few minutes when he told me to pull the car over and that President wanted to talk to me. He told me, "Elder Hazen, I just received an email from your parents, and I'm sorry to say that your Grandmother from your Mother's side passed away yesterday." I was in shock, as I thought back to a conversation with my father in which he told me she would probably be around when I got home from my mission even though she has been facing some health challenges this past week. President gave me permission to call home in the evening and I took the opportunity. 
As a missionary, I teach the Plan of Salvation nearly every day. I have learned of it's truth more fully since I've been serving as a full time missionary. On Friday morning, I wrote down my testimony of it during my personal study and I'd like to share what I wrote~

I know that the Plan of Happiness was divinely created by a loving Father in Heaven who is mindful of our needs. I know that we were together before this world was, and I know that we came to Earth to follow God's plan so we might become like him and enjoy the blessings he enjoys. I know that we were carefully placed in families where we could progress and succeed, and though this life on Earth does not continue, the relationships we build with the people we love continue on into the eternities. Death is part of God's plan that separates us only temporarily. I know that the Spirit World is where our spirits go after they separate with our bodies and it is a place of waiting for the resurrection and missionary work is being performed there. This is where all of our deceased loved ones are, either teaching or learning the gospel of Jesus Christ. I testify without a doubt that this is where Grandma and Grandpa Melendez are, wearing a name tag painted on their hearts reading "Elder and Sister Melendez". They are doing exactly what I am doing right now here in Rwanda and to be part of the same missionary force is humbling and comforting. I know we will all be resurrected regardless of how we lived on Earth because the Savior is champion over the grave and loosed the bands of death. I know our bodies will be perfect, free from any flaw, sickness, disease, or infirmity, just as our Heavenly Fathers' or Jesus Christs'. I know that if we prove faithful and live the gospel of Jesus Christ by living all the associated covenants by enduring to the end, we will be cleansed through the atonement of Jesus Christ. We will be granted a place in the Celestial Kingdom, where God and Jesus Christ live, a place where we can live forever on into the eternities with a complete fullness of happiness with our families. I know this is possible through the Priesthood, the sealing power of God which binds on Earth as well as in heaven. I know the temple, the House of the Lord, is the only place where these ordinances can be performed. I testify this same priesthood was restored to the earth in 1829 to the prophet Joseph Smith and that this church is the ONLY church to claim hold on the blessings through this perfect plan. I testify of a living, loving, Father in Heaven who gave his only begotten son to make this plan possible. I know that he is the Savior and Redeemer of the world and that he lives. I know these things and I believe them. I am grateful for the life Grandma Melendez lived more than words can express and I can't wait to see her again. She held a special place in everyone's heart who knew her as a Mother, Wife, Sister, Aunt, Grandmother, or endearingly as "Tiny Grandma". I know that families can be together forever. 
RJ and Tiny Grandma

Elder Hazen

Monday, January 2, 2017

Weekly Update~ "His Grace is Sufficient'

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope your New Year's was everything you hoped it to be and your resolutions are ambitious. This week, our brother Cedric stepped into the waters of baptism to kick off the New Year right. He is another one of Frank's referrals and it was awesome to see him, Leon who was also baptized recently, and him sitting together during the baptism program.

Speaking of Leon, I had the unique opportunity to bless the Sacrament with him yesterday. It was his first time, and he was nervous, so throughout the opening part of sacrament meeting, I was practicing the pronunciations of "thee" and "thy" with him. When it came down to it, he had to repeat a few times, but when he got it, he was relieved and happy. In Rwanda, because the church is so new. along with the priesthood bretheren, there are many meetings with repeated sacrament prayers. However, I love when these occurances happen, because it reminds me of what the Atonement is all about. It is a commandment that we are to be perfect even as the Savior and our Father in Heaven are perfect. They expect nothing short of that. However, they have provided the means to keep this commandment, as they have with all other commandments. The Atonement offers us as many tries as we need when we slip up until one day we become worthy heirs of all the father hath. In seminary, I remember the first time I listened to "His Grace is Sufficent" By Brad Wilcox. To be honest, as an immature high school kid, I don't remember much about that first time listening to it other than I picked out the fact that the Savior's grace covers a lot more than we think. However, I've studied that talk at least half a dozen times on my mission and it adds a few notes to my "singing the song of redeeming love" each time I read it. 
I love the way Brother Wilcox shares his previous view of the final Judgement compared to what it actually is:

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.
Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”
Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.
But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.
On my mission I have come to an understanding of what Grace is so much more fully. This last week, someone brought to Elder Grant and I's attention that we needed to repent and improve at taking reports from the zone because we had slacked off a bit on those responsibilites. We were able to repent and improve. Grace is what fills the gap when we fall short when we sin, but it is also what fills the gap when we've done all we can and that still isn't quite enough. For example, this week, on Sunday at sacrament meeting, we were remaining with two new investigators to find and were one investigator at church short for the standards of excellence. We were feeling a little disappointed, but then, when greeting people after the meeting had ended, we had discovered two young men, both by the name of Samuel, had come to church for the first time. One was invited by a member, the other attended the Christmas party last week.  We pulled both of them aside and taught them the Restoration in an empty classroom and it was a wonderful lesson. 
So, the next time a nervous, newly ordained priest repeats the sacrament prayer, remember that like the Bishop gives him as many tries he needs to get it right, the Lord gives us as many times to repent and improve until we attain perfection. For that reason, I am forever grateful. This year, make a resolution to become better at repenting daily. It is certainly one of mine. 

I love you all, 
Elder Hazen