Hi for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Alex Ruffner and I have been called to serve in the Virginia, Richmond mission. I have wanted to serve a mission ever since I was 12 years old. When I finally turned 12 I was so excited to finally be able to go into young women’s. One of the first activities I went to was a missionary activity where we got a mission call letter and then we split up into our mission groups and would go from room to room and in each room there would be a returned missionary there and we would watch a little video about a certain part of a mission and the returned missionary would tell us about their mission. I don’t know why I loved this activity so much, but I did. I had so much fun and thought that it was the greatest thing ever. When I got home I went downstairs to tell my parents all about it. I showed them my letter and I told them that this has made me really want to go on a mission.
Ever since then I have wanted to go, but I didn’t want to wait all the way until I was 21. I felt like then I am going to be in college and have my life figured out or whatever. I just told myself that whatever happens happens and when I turn 21 I will see where I am in my life and then decide if I am going to go. 3 years later in General Conference, Prophet Thomas S. Monson announced that boys can now leave on missions at age 18 and girls at age 19. When he said that the first thought that came into my mind was, Alex, you’re going on a mission. The next couple years after that I have prayed and studied the scriptures and my patriarchal blessing and I felt like it was so right and so good and I knew that I was supposed to serve a mission.
About a year ago, I moved up to Logan to go to Utah State University and you know how Bishops do the get to know you meetings, well in that meeting I told him that I wanted to serve a mission and He said that we can get started on my papers right now so that I have enough time to get all of my dentist and doctor appointments all figured out. When he said that, I started to get really nervous and started rethinking everything I had thought about serving a mission. I told him that I would like to wait a little longer. Up until that point, every time I would think about serving a mission I got excited, but I knew that it was years away. When it was actually time to start my papers I freaked out and decided that I wasn’t going to serve a mission anymore.
I got really scared, so I emailed some of my friends on missions and asked if they were ever scared to go. One of my good friends from High School sent me back this email, “yeah like the week before I was horrified, even in the MTC I was scared, but our mission president said "you got on the plane! I was impressed you even did that!" so you really just have to take it a step at a time. I remember leaving my fam at the airport and it was sad, but I felt so powerful, every step felt like I was a new person. There was so much ahead, so much adventure and change and goodness! I could feel the angels on my right and my left, and I had no idea what I was getting into but that is an experience I always think of. I was alone but I felt like I was leading an army! It’s hard to explain, haha but missions are way scary! but also so fun! the Lord helps you and you’re never alone!” This made me realize that this is the Lord’s work. He will always be there to lift us up and to strengthen us when we need it.
Elder Holland said, “With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don’t give into that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay on the course and see the beauty of life unfold before you.” This brought me so much comfort and made me realize that choosing to go on a mission has always been a really easy decision for me. If it was right then, why would it be wrong now? Alma 56:46 says, “Behold, our God is with us, and He will not suffer that we should fall. Then let us go forth!” It is important that we “go forth” with what the Lord wants us to do, and He will be with us every step of the way!
So, the next time I saw the Bishop I told him that I was ready to start my papers. He told me that was good because he wanted to meet with me anyway. When I stopped feeling unsure about whether I was really going to serve a mission I prayed that the Lord would help me prepare for my mission so when the time came I could be the missionary that He needed me to be. When I met with the Bishop we started my papers and I was so happy to confidently be able to say I am going on a mission and I am ready to start my papers. After we got that all figured out he told me that he would like to give me a calling. Since it was getting to the end of the semester I thought that maybe I would be called as Family Home Evening mom or something not too hard because all of the big callings were given. He said, “Will you be a Sunday School teacher?” I just looked at him not quite sure that I heard right and said, “What?” He asked me again, “Will you be a Sunday School teacher you will teach Gospel Doctrine.” In my mind I was screaming no no no! I really did not want this calling I thought that they would call a returned missionary for this not some 18-year-old freshman who just barely moved out. I just started at him for probably 30 seconds as my mind went crazy. Alex you can say no. Just say no. But wait, the Lord called me for this calling, it is what He needs me to do. 1 Nephi 3:7 “…I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Then I finally said, “Yes.” I think that I looked pretty nervous because the Bishop started telling me that I would only have to teach every other week and stake conference and ward conference were coming up so I wouldn’t have to teach on those weeks. I thanked him and walked out of his office, outside of the church, and did what most freshman do when they get stressed, I called my mom.
I told her that I started my papers and she was all happy and then I told her that I got a calling. She got excited and asked me what it was and I said I’m the new Gospel Doctrine teacher and started crying. I told her that I did not want this calling and I don’t understand why I was called as Gospel Doctrine teacher there are so many people in the ward who would do such a better job than me! At this point the tears were flowing pretty hard. I know most of you are thinking, Alex it isn’t really a big deal you’re just going to be a teacher not the President of the United States! But in that moment I was terrified. That class was always full, and my ward was filled with amazing people. People that had served missions that I felt knew everything about the Gospel. They were so spiritual, these were people that I looked up to and people that intimidated me. How was I supposed to teach them?
Luckily I was surrounded by amazing friends and family and they told me that the Lord called me to be Gospel Doctrine teacher for a reason. I had a message that people needed to hear. They told me that they were excited to hear me teach. In desperate need for comfort I prayed to my Father in Heaven to give me confidence and peace in this calling. When Elder Quentin L. Cook was called he also had similar thoughts, he said, “To say that I feel deeply inadequate would be an understatement. When I was called as a General Authority in April of 1996, I also felt unequal to the calling. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reassured me then that the most important qualification for all of us serving in the kingdom is to be comfortable in bearing witness of the divinity of the Savior. A peace came over me at that time and has stayed with me since because I love the Savior and have had spiritual experiences that allow me to testify of Him. I rejoice in the opportunity to bear witness of Jesus Christ in all the world, notwithstanding my inadequacies.” I knew that I had a testimony of my Savior Jesus Christ and experiences that allow me to testify of Him that, along with the Spirit, was all I needed to be able to teach this class.
Before my first lesson, I prayed that I would be able to have the Spirit with me so that I may know what to put in my lesson. I wrote down every single word that I was going to say. I practiced a ton of times before so I wouldn’t be staring at the paper the whole time. When sacrament ended that Sunday people started flooding into the classroom and I just stood in the front. I remember looking at my friend Annie on the front row and she saw my eyes start to water and I started to cry but she looked at me and said, “Alex you are going to do fine! You worked so hard on that lesson, It’s all going to be okay.” I tried to push down the tears and start class. It went so much more smoothly than I thought it was going to. I felt the Spirit so strongly and people participated so nicely because they knew how nervous I was.
As I taught more lessons I wrote less down of what I was going to say and focused more on the Spirit. There was one time that I felt like I didn’t prepare enough and that my lesson was really short and I was going to run out of time, I had so many doubts. But I went up there and started teaching and when I just had gotten through the beginning I looked at the clock and class was almost over. I didn’t even get to the middle and later that day a friend of mine texted me and thanked me for the lesson, he said that is what he needed to hear that day and he thanked me for teaching by the Spirit. That text made me feel so good. It made me realize that I was teaching by the Spirit and that I wasn’t a terrible teacher. Elder Ballard said, “It is impossible for us to fail when we do our best when we are on the Lord’s errand.” All we have to do is try our best and we cannot fail. The lessons that I got worried weren't long enough or good enough, those are the ones that always turned out the best. This calling scared me a lot at the beginning and I don’t think I ever didn’t get nervous before a lesson, but I know that accepting that calling was one of the best things I could have done. I definitely was not the best teacher and there are so many people who could have done better than me. I don’t think that I was given that calling to change the lives of the members who came, it was to change my life. And it did!
Before I was given this calling I prayed to Heavenly Father and asked if He would help me prepare for my mission. This was it! This calling was my answer to that prayer! I know that is true. Because of this calling, I learned that God hears and answers our prayers, He might not answer them in the way you were thinking or even a way that you like, but He answers them in the best way possible. I learned how to teach, and to teach by the Spirit. I learned how to trust in the Lord. Robert D. Hales says, “As we follow the Savior, He blesses us with gifts, talents, and the strength to do His will, allowing us to go beyond our comfort zones and do things we’ve never thought possible.”
We are constantly faced with choices in our lives. Every day we choose whether to follow God or not to. A friend of mine was telling me about how she has been praying about what she needs to do but felt like she hasn’t gotten an answer. This reminded me of one of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon. The Jaredites are preparing for their journey to the promised land. The Lord told the brother of Jared that he needs to make barges to cross the water. But they didn’t have any light so the brother of Jared asked the Lord if they will have to travel in darkness. Ether 2:23 “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” The Lord is asking the brother of Jared what he wants Him to do. This shows us that the Lord does care about our agency, he wants us to make our own choices in this life. The Holy Ghost is always there to help guide us in the decisions we make, but not to control our lives.
Someone once told me, God gave us brains, He expects us to use them. Sometimes we just need to make a decision and go with it. If you are praying for guidance, He will not let you walk down the wrong path. Have faith and take a step into the dark and the light will come. If it never comes, then make another choice and step back into the light. Elder Holland said, “Fighting through darkness and despair and pleading for the light is what opened this dispensation. It is what keeps it going, and it is what will keep you going.” Keep pleading for the light, don’t ever stop. Faith always comes before miracles.
Sometimes we do get lost. The Lord knew that we would not always make the right choices, and that is why He sent Jesus Christ to perform the Atonement for us. Alma 7: 11, 12 “And he shall go forth; suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” If you feel lost, know that Christ knows where you are, He knows how you are feeling, the only thing we need to do to be rescued is to come unto Him. D&C 88:63 says, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Heavenly Father will not force anyone into Heaven. He will not force you to accept the Gospel, or read your scriptures, or come to church. That is all up to you. Christ will always be there for us; we only need to ask, seek, knock.
President Uchtdorf says, “We are created by the Almighty God. He is our Heavenly Father. We are literally His spirit children. We are made of supernal material most precious and highly refined, and thus we carry within ourselves the substance of divinity. Here on earth, however, our thoughts and actions become encumbered with that which is corrupt, unholy, and impure. The dust and filth of the world stain our souls, making it difficult to recognize and remember our birthright and purpose. But all this cannot change who we truly are. The fundamental divinity of our nature remains. And the moment we choose to incline our hearts to our beloved Savior and set foot upon the path of discipleship, something miraculous happens. The love of God fills our hearts, the light of truth fills our minds, we start to lose the desire to sin, and we do not want to walk any longer in darkness. We come to see obedience not as a punishment but as a liberating path to our divine destiny.”
Each day make a new commitment to be a better person then you were yesterday. Life can be hard, and trials will come, and sometimes it will be hard to accept the Lord’s will. I know that I am not the only person who has asked why life can be so hard? Why choosing the right sometimes is so hard? Elder Holland said, “If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Father, if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.” I know that trials will always be there, but Christ will also always be there for us. He won’t give up on you, so don’t give up on Him.
Just take it one day at a time. There is this quote that says, “Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.” Choose each day to have faith. Choose each day to follow the Lord. One day you will look back and realize that you lived a good life filled with great decisions. I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for me in my life. I want to end with this scripture 2 Nephi 31:20 “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
I know that this is the true restored Church on the Earth. I know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God and that he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I know without a doubt that the Book of Mormon is true, and if you read it, it will change your life. I know that President Thomas S. Monson is our living prophet on the Earth today. I know that Heavenly Father sent his Only Begotten Son down to Earth to perform the Atonement. I know that the Atonement is real, and we can use it in our daily lives. I know that the choices we make in this life will determine our future. I know that God hears and answers our prayers. He loves us more than we can comprehend and He wants so badly for us to come unto Him. I know that we all have a purpose on this Earth and with Christ we can do anything.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.