Monday, March 9, 2015

This is Only the Beginning

My dearest friends and family,

Well, here it is! My last day as a missionary in the Philippines. My mind and heart are bursting with bittersweet emotion at the thought that I will soon be hugging my family at the airport and also at the thought that I will be leaving a whole lot of myself and my heart here in the Philippines.

I want to share with you a few lessons that I learned here that I'll be taking home with me.

First, I've learned how to LOVE. Love everyone, especially my Heavenly Father. Not just say the words, "I love you" but to really show it in my actions. In the last 18 months I've worked with countless sister missionaries from all over the world coming from all different backgrounds. I've met and talked to and taught a lot of people and I've learned to see each one of them, not for who they are right now, but for who they have the potential to become as a son or daughter of God. I've learned to love them, not because the love me or my message, but because they are my brother or sister and I've been blessed to feel and share God's love for them. What an amazing privilege!

Second, I've learned how to be HAPPY. I've learned that true happiness doesn't come from a great job, a big house, the next iPhone or TV, or a perfect life. I've been blessed to serve among the happiest people on earth- the beautiful Filipinos :) The happiest people I've met here in the Philippines have next to nothing, but are faithfully living the Gospel. We had a visit with an active member, an RM, Bro Flory and his family the other day. Bro Flory is one of the most faithful members here in Villasis. He walks with his family to church every single week without fail. He shared with us the other day about how he had no way to walk the two miles to his construction job because he had no food to bring with him and didn't know if he would have enough energy to do the work on no food. He told us that with no work, he had nothing to feed his family three small children, including two with special needs, except for a little rice. Sister Molina and I were both in tears upon hearing this and were praying to know what we could say to this man in his destitute condition and strengthen him. As we were talking to him, he was the one who ended up strengthening us with one of the most powerful one-sentence sermons I've ever heard. With a smile on his face He said, "At least, the Church is true"... The Church IS true and for those faithful members who are living the commandments of God, no matter how difficult the circumstances, happiness and peace will come! True happiness is living like Bro Flory, living the commandments and trusting Him. I've felt that happiness every day in the last 18 months no matter how tired I am or how difficult the day was. Missionaries are happy because they live the commandments and are serving Heavenly Father. Happiness is choosing to put Heavenly Father first!

Third, I've come to know who my Savior Jesus Christ is. I've been privileged to experience even the most minuscule part of what He experienced as I've walked a path of rejection, miracles, joy, struggles and true discipleship. The price a missionary pays is not cheap. Every tear, every mile walked in the pouring rain or scorching head, every rejection, every hard day and tired bone was all worth it for me, because it made me realize what my Savior went through for me. There were so many days that all I could do was turn to Him and the power of His Atonement, but in the end I am so GRATEFUL because those hard days helped me learn who my Savior really is and helped me to become even just the tiniest bit more like Him. All of it was worth it for that blessing!

I want to give some advice to those who are still serving or preparing to serve as missionaries. It's the same advice I was given a long time ago: LOVE quickly, choose to be HAPPY, and don't waste a single moment! You will be happy if you do these things and will have a successful mission, no matter the outward results.

I am so excited to begin my eternal mission as a make my way home on Wednesday. My mission doesn't end when I take my nametag off because I know that this is only the beginning of an eternal commitment to serve my Heavenly Father. I will continue to do so, to go wherever He goes and do whatever He asks for the rest of my life just as I have learned to do here in the mission field. This is only the beginning!

I love you and am eternal grateful for your support!

Sister Mckenna Gustafson :)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Coming Home!

Sister Gustafson has had an amazing experience among the people of the Philippines. In just a few short days she will be returning home. If you have been a regular or casual reader of this blog, please take a moment to post a short comment below. I'm sure she would love to know how you have enjoyed reading about her growth and adventures in the Philippines. Thank you!

We're giddy with excitement to welcome her home!

Brother Rick

Hello everyone,

I want to tell you a story about a brother that was baptized on Saturday. His name is Brother Rick and his journey into the church started last August when Sister Flores and I stopped on the side of the road and talked to him as he was delivering soft drinks. We had a strong feeling that we needed to go back to him, but never had the chance because of some things that came up in his life. He lost contact with the missionaries after I was transferred, but Sis Gregory and I were able to go back to him when I was reassigned here in Villasis. He has become a big part of my last 3 months here in Villasis and we've seen so much progress as we've helped him to learn and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told us the other day that if we didn't do anything else on our missions, that we should know that at least we helped one person. He said, "At least you saved one, you saved one."

The baptism was so spiritual and it was wonderful to see Bro Rick surrounded by all the other brothers in the ward that had friendshipped and supported him as he prepared for baptism. The best part however, was when he got up yesterday during testimony meeting and shared his testimony. He said, “I used to have a big business and a lot of money and a lot of cars and a pretty wife, but I always felt something was missing in my life. It came to a time that my business went under and my wife left me and took the kids with her and I lost all my money. I moved back in with my parents to take care of them. My mother died and I was still struggling to find what was missing. Until I heard the gospel I didn't know what I needed. The missionaries taught me how to pray, how to go to church every Sunday, pray, and stay away from alcohol. Now I'm happier than I've ever been before. I have no money, no more big business, and no family, but I have faith, the gospel, prayer, and a family here in the church. I know the Church is true and the Book of Mormon is true."

Brother Rick has seen the change in his life because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We've seen the change in him too. He is happier and smiles more and says he feels more peace! I testify that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, prayer, reading the Book of Mormon, and going to church are the only things that can bring true happiness! I invite you to add these things to your life and notice the changes you find! I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church on the earth and living the teachings of Jesus Christ will bring happiness, peace, and direction to your life! :)

Sister Mckenna Gustafson :)

Sister Marissa's Baptism

February 22, 2015

What a miracle filled week!

Sister Marissa with her family on her baptism day
Sister Marissa was baptized on Saturday. She is such a miracle. We know that it was not us that taught her, but the Spirit of God. Sister Marissa could not hear or read anything that we taught her and at times we were at a loss of how to communicate the doctrines of the lesson to her, but we relied on the truth that the Spirit is the one language that can communicate the truth to anyone's heart who is willing to accept it. And sis Marissa is one of the most humble, willing to learn investigators that I've met on my mission. She was simply glowing after her nephew baptized her on Saturday. We went in the back afterward to congratulate her and she signed to us that she didn't want to stand in the front because she motioned that she would start crying she was so overcome with emotion. :) The biggest change in her countenance however came after she was confirmed a member and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Sister Molina and I both noticed, Sister Marissa really is different. She smiles more and just seems to have this glow about her countenance. It's the light of Christ that has just grown with in her. We couldn't be more happy for her and the increased joy and peace that this step has added to her life!

We also had a great miracle and surprise last night when we showed up at Bro Carlito and Sis Priscilla's house last night. They have been members of the church for only about 3 months and are experiencing some trials right now which have prevented them coming to church lately.. We expressed this concern to the ward leaders during MLC and requested a visit from the ward leaders to help them resolve their struggles and show the support and love of the ward. We were shocked in the best possible missionary way when we showed up at their house last night to find not one, not two, but SIX ward leaders at their house talking with them and sharing a message with them, including Bishop and his wife, the RS Pres, and the EQ president. Three separate couples from the ward had decided to take time from their busy day to visit a struggling RC family. It wasn't even planned that they would all go and visit them!! And Bro Carlito and Sis Priscilla felt the love and support of the ward. Bishop gave Bro Carlito a priesthood blessing and blessed him with strength to keep the commandments and overcome their trials. We are so grateful for these truly consecrated members who did something so simple to show their love for this family! That is true Christlike love and ministering service!

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately is the blessing of challenges. A sister asked me this last week what the greatest blessing I received on my mission was and after thinking about it, I told her that the challenges I've experienced are definitely the greatest blessing I've received. There's nothing like being challenged and pushed to your limits mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually every day for 18 months to drive you closer to Heavenly Father and to grow to become more like His Son. I'm so grateful that He loves me enough to push me and allow me to grow! I'm learning to love the challenges every single day :)

Sister Gustafson :)

Two RM sisters who served in our mission showed up at church yesterday!
The lovely sisters of the Mangaldan Zone :)

Us with the Mapandan Sisters after exchanges last Wednesday
A house on a truck! :) Moving... more fun in the Philippines! :)