Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Post

I cannot really explain what it feels like to be going home after this 18 month journey.  It really started about two years ago when a prophet of God made changes to missionary age requirements, giving me the option to drop my books, my job, and leave my friends and family for a year in a half in pursuit of a more spiritual cause.  
Announcement by Prophet Thomas S. Monson:
I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. . . .
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.
After waiting to get to home base in Nashville, Tennessee.  I began to apply for the journey of a lifetime.  My application, something that normally takes months, was completed in under 4 days.  I don't know how many doctor and dentist appointments I went to in those few days, but all my requirements were filled and I was healthy and spiritually capable to serve the Lord.  My application was sent to Salt Lake City.
Back at school, the big white envelope arrived in the mail.  With friends around me and family on Skype, I got the call.  "Sister Copeland, you are hereby called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."   I was about to go to the opposite side of the world.  My destination: third-world Asia.
MAY 2013
I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.  I would receive Tagalog language training as well as teaching training.  I think it was my first day at the MTC when I really realized what I had signed up for.  For the first time I put on my black tag, something I would wear everyday for a year and a half.  It said " Sister Copeland" and under my name was the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There is really something to wearing a name tag and giving up your first name for 18 months - it is giving up some of your personal identity and accepting to serve Jesus Christ fully.  I wasn't Leah anymore; I was a representative of Christ and His church.
I am about to be Leah again.  I cannot really believe it.  I feel like I only blinked five times on my mission - once in San Nicolas, then in Laoag, and Sanchez Mira, then in Aparri and Laoag again.  The Lord has given me the opportunity to touch a few lives during this journey and I hope they remain touched.  I love the people that I have served.   Before I became a missionary, I thought a mission was for perfect people to help imperfect people.  I have now come to realize that missionaries are on a journey leading to perfection and encourage others to join them on the way. I hope some of those I have met and taught will stick with me and not forget the eternal goal.  
This week I will board a plane, go home, be officially released as a missionary, and I will remove my nametag.  I am not sure what it will feel like.  I know I will cry a lot.  When you give up everything for 18 months, it is hard to imagine what it was like before your pre-nametag days and what it will be like in the future.  
I want to thank you.  I am grateful for the love you have sent through your prayers and mail.  I didn't really realize in October 2012 what I was about to do, what sacrifices I would be required to make, or who I would become.  I don't think I have changed that much, but I have improved myself and started a lifelong journey of coming closer to the Lord.  I thought that 18 months would be enough, but not even a lifetime provides the needed time to learn and grow.  It is a good thing that we don't finish progressing here on earth but that we will continue for the eternities.  
At sa wakas, para sa mga brothers at sisters ko sa Ilocos at Cagayan.  Mahal ko kayo at mamismiss ko kayo.  Di ko pa alam kung kailan ako makakabalik, pero hindi ko makakakalimut ang mission. Di nyo alam kung gaano kagrabe ang epekto nyo sa akin buhay.  Magtiis kayo, ah?  Narigat ti biyag ngem Ti Simbaan ket pudpudno.  Walang iba.  Kita kits sa Celestial.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


So this week got very interesting very fast.  First, the leaders of the mission (that includes me) had a conference and then an activity.  We had the opportunity to visit some of the local tourist spots.  It was great and I felt lucky to see places for the first time I have not seen before.  Then while eating lunch, the mission president approached me and informed me that I would be flying to Manila the next day.  There was another change in visa policy so we need to have our little fingers printed just one more time before my group goes home.  So the next day I boarded a plane once again with 16 other missionaries.

We were very blessed in Manila.  We were able to get our fingerprinting done in a short time and we had remaining time to attend the Manila temple.  It was great to go to the temple after not being able to go for almost 16 months.  
What is all this stuff about temples?

  Sister Wood and I had a very funny experience in Manila.  We were eating at KFC.  There were no seats left but a nice man offered us two seats next to him.  We had a nice conversation, he was very professional and only spoke in English.  Of course we spoke in Tagalog because we cannot really speak English very comfortably any more.  Then he asked us where we were from and I responded, "Tennessee."  Then he said, "Yeah, Al Gore is from there, right?  Too bad he did not win the 2000 election."  So this very nice man turned out to be a Filipino Al Gore fanatic and went on and on and on about him.  I wanted to say, "You know that election was 14 years ago?" but I couldn't get a single word in.  You never know who you will meet in Manila.

Considering that I spent some time in Manila this week, we lost a lot of time to serve the Lord.  The days we did have left to spread the gospel in Laoag were busy as could be.  I know this week will be a busy one too.  I am going to do my best to serve Him as a full-time missionary now because my time to serve Him full-time expires next week. 

Tell me what you want what you really really want.

Do we have any Spice Girls fans out there?  Because their most classic song played this week while our investigator was praying.  Our lesson with Angel, a 60 plus year old man, was an interesting one from the start.  We taught about how the Holy Ghost testifies to us of the truth.  As missionaries, we do not expect people to just believe in us because what we say is good.  We want people to know what we teach is true, to ask God for a confirmation, and to feel that confirmation through the Holy Spirit.  We invited this investigator to do just this and as he offered our closing prayer, his daughter's cell phone went off with the all too inappropriate yet appropriate Spice Girls lyric, "Tell me what you want what you really really want."  Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, but this way seemed all too obvious, at least to us sister missionaries.  God hears our prayers and wants to answer them.

Sister Shrack, my companion, is always making fun of me and my umbrella.  So this week I would like to take the opportunity to not only explain the importance of the Holy Spirit, but also the importance of my umbrella.  My umbrella is what most Filipinos consider to be an "old lady" umbrella.  It is big and isn't very compact, but it does keep me safe.  It doubles as my weapon against ravenous dogs and creepy old drunk men. Everyone needs an old lady umbrella.
I am glad the work of the Lord is not about the numbers.  It is not about how many souls we baptize or how many lessons we really teach.  Do we track those things?  Of course.  Only so that we can become more effective representatives of the Lord, but this work is based on love.  When you are a missionary and you look only at the numbers, all odds are against you.  When you are a missionary concerned about love, you see the tender mercies of the Lord and the many ways in which he touches the lives of those around you.  I am a missionary and I serve out of love. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Manila and back.

This week was a busy one.  Going to the Bureau of Immigration in Manila was quite an adventure.  It is basically a big building of foreigners getting fingerprinted and getting their pictures taken.  I kept looking around and asking to myself, "Why are you here? This is the hottest place in the world and looking at how tall you are and the color of your skin, you clearly do not belong here."  Then I remembered that they were all looking at me thinking the same thing...
After I got back from Manila, Sister Shrack and I got right back to work.  We saw some small miracles this week.
-Beelee, an investigator, accepted a goal date for her baptism.  Beelee is old, lacks confidence in her ability to read and write, is caring for her paralyzed child, and extremely poor.  But overall, she knows that she has to follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized.  
-The Allora family wants to become a forever family.  As we discussed with Sister Allora what she must do to help her family prepare for the temple, she was surprised that a temple sealing was still an option.  She thought that it was too late and because some of her family members had strayed, it would be impossible for them to enter the holy walls of the temple to become sealed for all time and eternity.  We told her that of course there is still hope if they are willing to work.  

The gospel is full of blessings.  All types of blessings.  There is one for everyone.  We have to follow our Lord, Jesus Christ, and then the blessings will fall down from above and enter our lives when we need them the most.  I have seen just a few in the past 17 months and 1 week of my mission.  I will be home in only a few weeks and I am excited to continue to dedicate my time and efforts in building His kingdom. 

Planes, xrays, and lost souls.

I had a chest xray this week.  But don't worry, I do not have any diseases, so I may depart the Philippines in one month without any issues.  This coming week is full of preparations to go home.  In a little while, I will be leaving for Manila for a day to do fingerprinting for my visa.
This week was another hard one in my area.  I have realized how blessed I have been with other successes on my mission, so now it is my time to accept a greater challenge. And that is fine with me.  Challenges are growing opportunities we receive from God.  And patience is a virtue that must be earned.
Watch this psychological experiment and learn the importance of patience:
Missionaries walk and walk and walk in the hot sun.  When we think we have walked enough, we walk more and more.  We sometimes joke that we do it because we are dieting, but the truth is that we are walking as servants of the Lord.  It takes time and effort to find those He has prepared to accept His gospel. 
As missionaries, we also spend a lot of time rescuing the once found but now lost.  These people, members of the Church who have strayed, are just as valuable as those who do not yet know the truth.  I am thankful for our opportunity to help these precious souls return to Him.  One of these souls is Cathy.  Cathy has been a member of the Church since she was a child but found the wrong friends and lost her way.  She can quote scriptures like the back of her hand and she knows every doctrine of the gospel.  She also misses the Church.  Cathy may have forgotten the Lord, but the Lord has not forgotten her.  She will come back as we outstretch our arms to her and welcome her back to His fold.  
It is crazy to think that in a month I will be on a plane to Manila, to Japan, to Atlanta, and then to Nashville.  It is all coming way too fast.  I thank you all for your continual support and prayers. The full-time missionaries, all 88,000 of us, need you.