Good afternoon Brothers and Sisters! Magandang Hapon, ang pangalan ko ay Abby Giles and I have been called to serve in the Philippines San Pablo mission. Obviously, my Tagalog needs a lot of work, but I leave in 10 days and I am so excited!
I want to start out by sharing a little bit about how I decided to serve a mission. Before this, I spent most of my life preparing to swim at BYU. A mission was never in my plans. During my freshman year I saw a lot of my friends get the desire to serve and start their papers but I still kept saying no way to a mission. I loved my team, I loved my school and I even found a major I loved. I had a very solid 5 year plan with specific details like when and where I wanted to study abroad, an internship for my major, a graduation date, and even a month when I wanted to meet my future spouse so I could avoid a summer wedding. If you can’t already tell, I love to plan. But long story short, a mission slowly started to work its way into that plan. I remember sitting in my religion class one day at BYU and reading the phrase, “where much is given, much is required.” I tried to ignore the strong promptings I was getting to serve a mission but I knew that it was something I needed to pray about. I remember distinctly the day I got my answer. It was after my last race of my last swim meet of the season. I got out of the water and I had this overwhelming feeling and thought come to my mind again that where much is given, much is required. I started thinking about everything the Lord had blessed me with. I knew that I had all the tools I needed to serve a mission, so why wouldn’t I? Heavenly Father had given me 18 years full of blessings, so how could I not give 18 months to him?
After that race, I knew there was something more God wanted me to do. He answered my prayers and I know that a mission is what I am supposed to do right now.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent…I testify that the heavens are open.” I really love this quote. I know that the Lord has not been silent in my life, but it's also my responsibility to hear and follow His revelation for me.
I know that Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers individually and also speaks through apostles and prophets to give us counsel and direction so that we will be happy and ultimately return to Him. Many of us know the stories of prophets in the Old Testament like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. I love reading the Bible and noticing similarities between the things people struggled with then and now and how the prophets lead and loved the people during hard times. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could sit down and have one of these great prophets talk to us? Wouldn't you love to know what advice the apostles Peter, James and John would give us today? We can still learn a lot from studying the words of the ancient prophets and apostles and I’m sure if they were here on earth now, they would have some great advice from God about how to deal with our modern day struggles. Well, I have good news! I know that we still have prophets and apostles on the earth today and their messages are modern day scripture.
Prophets are the Lord’s mouthpiece to us here on earth. In the Bible, Amos 3:7 reads "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets." Prophets and apostles are an essential characteristic of the church Jesus Christ established.
One of my teammates at school was a girl named Vanessa who eventually became one of my best friends. Vanessa is a good Catholic who came to BYU because she was comfortable around the team and liked the feeling on the campus when she came for a recruiting trip. All BYU students are required to take a religion class each semester so there were many nights Vanessa ended up in my dorm room asking if we could study together. I grew up in Mesa around a lot of members of the church so it was really good for me to study the basics with Vanessa. Our conversations helped me understand the blessing it is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth. Even though we were raised in different faiths, we had more similarities than differences.
Like me, Vanessa believed that when Christ was on the earth He taught the gospel and performed many miracles. He called 12 men to be His apostles and laid His hands on their heads to give them priesthood authority. Before His death, Jesus gave the Apostles authority to teach the gospel, perform the ordinances of salvation and to establish His church in the world. Those apostles were persecuted and most were killed.
Here is where my friends and I explained to Vanessa how our church was different because it wasn't a reformed version of Christ's original church, it was the same organization restored again to the earth. The death of Jesus Christ and all of the apostles left the earth without priesthood authority and people were left on their own to interpret scripture and the principles of the gospel.
Many years later, a young boy named Joseph Smith was confused about which church on the earth was correct and prayed for guidance. It was through Joseph Smith that Christ's true church was restored to the earth and the priesthood authority was given again to a living prophet. I know that a 14-year old boy restoring the Gospel on the earth is hard to believe, but I know that we have a God of miracles. Just like with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, I know God spoke to Joseph Smith and called him to be a modern day prophet. Living prophets can tell us what the Lord wants us to hear.
I’m thankful to know that similar to biblical times, we have a prophet and apostles on the earth today. One of these apostles, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, shared a quote on this topic that I love. He said, “…The Lord does not love the people of our day any less than in past times. One of the glorious messages of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ is that God continues to speak to His children! He is not hidden in the heavens but speaks today as He did in ancient days.”
Believing in prophets and apostles at the head of the Church does not mean that Mormons blindly follow their leaders. Although the prophet receives revelation and inspiration to guide the Church as a whole, revelation flows at every level, including to the local leaders and to individual families and members. We are expected to seek divine guidance, use our agency and make our own decisions.
I want share an experience I had recently with personal revelation. I have been meeting with our great full-time missionaries, Sister Niska and Sister Pajaro to practice being a missionary. The topic of the Bible came up and our pretend investigators told us that they believed there can be no other revelation after the bible. The sisters turned the comment over to me and at first I was scared and not sure how to answer. I talked about the Book of Mormon being another testament of Jesus Christ and about the people living in the America's who the Book of Mormon records. I felt a strong confirmation that God does love us just as much as the people who lived in the Bible and Book of Mormon times. I know He hasn’t left us alone. He has given us prophets and the gift of personal revelation to help us take on the challenges we have today. I believe that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are true and I believe that we continue to have revelation from living prophets that is equally important. In fact, President Ezra Taft Benson said, "The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.”
In about a month, we can hear what the Prophet and current apostles have to say at General Conference. I won't have a choice about listening since I'll be in the MTC, but I hope you won't miss the opportunity to hear what the Lord wants you to know.
I'm not going to lie, I'm super nervous as I head out to the Philippines. It's pretty far from the comforts of my home and will be a very different experience for me. But I know if I am obedient and humble, God will bless me, help me and comfort me. Elder Henry B. Eyring said: “Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way. Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety.”