* The talk posted has been slightly shortened and does not include the testimony I gave at the end.
Good morning brothers and sisters, my name is Jessie Cressall. I’m soon to be Sister Cressall as I am entering the Provo MTC in 3 days to go serve in the Kentucky Louisville Mission. I grew up in this ward, but I’ve been away for a few years either living away at college.
Now if you would’ve asked me 3 years ago if I planned on serving a mission, I would have told you a strong and clear “no.” I did not grow up thinking I would ever serve a mission. It was never part of the plan that I had set up for myself. But I heard recently that if you want to make Heavenly Father laugh, tell him your plans. I remember just a week after my 19th birthday, it was General Conference and President Monson announced that young women could serve missions at 19 instead of 21. I remember everyone was all excited and I did not go a single day without hearing of another one of my friends or peers who were starting their mission papers because I was in the age group of the first younger missionaries. I was really excited for them and all, but still never considered serving one.
The reason behind that was because at the age of 19, my testimony was not nearly as strong as it should have or could have been. I am so grateful for the experiences and the work that I have done the past 3 years. I have matured and my testimony has been strengthened in immeasurable ways. I know that I could not have made the life-changing decision to serve a mission unless I was fully converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not easy an easy path, but one that changed my life and has made me so grateful that I did the work that I did to become fully converted and taught by the power of the Holy Ghost.
My testimony only continued to strengthen as I studied the Book of Mormon and the rest of the Standard Works. I know that my gospel knowledge grows the most when I was taught by the Holy Ghost. My testimony was strengthened as I allowed the Holy Ghost to bring knowledge and conviction into my life that not only blessed my life but allowed me to bless the lives of others as well.
For about 5 months in the fall of 2014 I lived in Thailand and I was an English teacher at a private school there. I taught there with 5 other girls. On Sundays we would get up at 5:00 in the morning in order to bike over to the train station at catch the 6:20 train to make it to church by 9:00. We attended a tiny branch in a bigger city about an hour train ride away. I was always amazed by the friendliness and love that the branch members showed us there. We would sit in the back during church meetings and the full-time missionaries would attempt to translate what the members were saying into English for us, but Thai is a really hard language so most often we missed most of what they were saying. Although we could not understand them a lot of the time, the Spirit was always so strong in those meetings. I could feel the strong testimonies of the members there and I learned so much from them.
I remember one Sunday at church in particular. There were only two of us at church because the rest of the girls we lived with did not want to get up early that day. A little old lady came up to us after sacrament meeting. She assumed we were missionaries because they were usually the only Americans attending this tiny branch in the small town. She grabbed our hands and starting talking to us. She spoke to us for quite a while in Thai. We of course did not understand her, but we smiled and nodded as she spoke. When I saw the tears start to well up in her eyes, I finally got an idea as to what she was talking about. She pulled a small photograph out of her purse. It was a picture of 2 Elders with their arms around her. It was then that I realized the impact these missionaries brought into her life and how they changed her. It was in that moment that I realized the great work missionaries did and this woman even assumed I was one. However, I still did not feel worthy of such a calling, but I thought it would be a truly amazing thing to help change a person’s life like that. That experience made me appreciate the great work the missionaries did in converting people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It got me thinking about the Thai members. Most of them had grown up in the Buddhist religion. A striking aspect of the Buddhist view is that there is no soul, as it is understood in Christian traditions. That is, there is no permanent substance or essence which endures after death. When many new members would bear their testimonies after their baptisms, many would testify of the great joy that was brought into their lives when they learned that life did not end after death and that their souls would live on and that they were able to live with their families eternally.
This experience got me thinking about the importance of the Plan of Salvation in missionary work. It got me thinking about whether people feel peace in their lives. We live in a tumultuous world and even I admit that I often spend more time worrying than feeling at peace. I have to refer back to my testimony about the Plan of Salvation. I have to remember that Heavenly Father has a plan and purpose for my life. When I focus on my ultimate purpose in this life, I finally feel at peace. This is when all the little struggles of everyday life slowly disappear as I remember my ultimate purpose in this life and strive toward accomplishing His purpose.
I of course am not the only one who does not feel peace. Many people have the same worries and ask the same questions. There are the typical questions: “Where did I come from?” What happens when I die?” or even “What will make me happy?” The Plan of Salvation answers all of these questions. God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us.
Teaching the Plan of Salvation is an integral and extremely necessary part of missionary work. I know that as a missionary, true conversion cannot occur until my investigators have a sure and strong testimony of their plan to endure to the end and return to live with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I know it is my purpose as a missionary to share the Plan of Salvation to others and through their own agency will gain their own testimonies and accept God’s plan for them. Only then can we all find true peace and happiness in our lives.
Elaine S. Dalton has said: “In these latter days, there are no small decisions. The choices you are making right now are of critical importance. Agency, or the ability to choose, is one of God’s greatest gifts to His children. It is part of the plan of happiness you and I chose and defended in our premortal existence. Live your lives in such a way that you can listen to and hear the Holy Ghost, and He will help you make correct decisions. In fact, He will tell you ‘all things what ye should do. ”
Michaelene P. Grassli, former Primary General President has also taught: “Every good thing you do in your life is following God’s plan. Every time you are kind to another person, each time you have courage to do something difficult, each time you do a thoughtful act without being asked, each time you say your prayers, each time you read the scriptures, each time you go to church, each time you help a friend—you are following God’s plan for you.”
What a thought. I often forget that performing such small simple acts is doing God’s work. I know that as a full-time missionary sometimes the greatest work I can do is the small, simple acts. Not all missionary work is measured by baptisms. I’m sure there a many people in Kentucky are lonely or otherwise afflicted and who could use some simple acts of kindness or a friendly face in their lives. Missionary work is a great opportunity to serve others and show them just how much God loves them. It’s also work that should start before the mission and continue long after the mission.