Thursday, September 14, 2017

A year later, a year older, a year...wiser? Yeah, I'd say so.

A year, really? 

Someone this week asked me how long I've been back.
"A couple months", I replied. 
Only today did it hit me that I'm one of those guys I would stare at my freshman semester and think, "wow, you guys are old."

If you ever read my emails (or this blog my mom kept up for me) you would know how much I truly loved my mission, and how I loved to complain about it--the different food, language, and lack of any living creation besides humans, dogs, fleas, and spiders.

Despite all the bad, I was torn to leave. I had invested my whole soul to a people and land I never knew I could love so much. But there was also my family, my friends, and... In-n-Out burger to go home to.

I remember that moment as I dropped my suitcase, ran towards my mom, seeing only the inside of her shoulder soon to be drenched in tears, with my dad and an excited group of family and friends smiling not too far beyond. Banners and signs flurried about. The moment I had been dreaming for all those long, hot days was here, and I was happy about it.

Then came the crucial moment of the release, the moment your precious name tag is removed. After all the emotional proceedings of the day, I thought this would be easier. Surprisingly, it was the hardest moment of the whole mission.

It happens all so fast. Mom places her hand on my tag ready to rip it off. I tell her to stop. The final seconds of the longest journey of my life is coming to a close. An unexpected flood of tears cascades down my face, some dropping onto the now faded Elder Phillips engraved into the tag. I don't know what shakes me the most: what I am leaving behind or what faces me in the future.

And like a harpoon being ripped out of my chest, the tag now hangs before me, clasped by the hands of a sobbing mother.

As any missionary would know, for the next few days you are the superstar. More loved ones are seen, American food is devoured, and even though everyone says they know how you feel, you can't help from feeling a little lost.

Soon everyone goes back to their routine. I mean, what do you expect? Their world doesn't revolve completely around you.  Exclamations such as, “Oh my! I haven't seen you in forever! How was your mission?!" seem to fade from your everyday conversations. You're now just another RM.

I think that is the first real adjustment all RM's must make. We build up the big homecoming in our minds so much that once it's over we feel just a part of the crowd. We have to get a job, go to school, and have grown up responsibilities that we obviously know how to do since we lived independently for two years. 😏

The next phase is the dealing with the real-life implications of our mission "success". We go on Facebook to find people we taught and baptized. Some pleasant surprises pop up. "I can't believe they got baptized!!" And some not so pleasant things. "Why aren't you going to church?!?!" One day, I found out one of my most beloved converts no longer wanted anything with the church. It tears your very soul apart. You can feel your "success" draining from you.

This leads to a not so accurate self-reflection. You begin to look at your mistakes not only in the mission field but in your RM life as well, looking for some explanation to your "failures". You recognize old habits you swore off in your mission that have crept in.

I spent too much time in this reflection phase. It made me less confident, less social, and more inclined to give in to all the things I had always wanted to try but knew were wrong. I mean, if I had tried to be good and people from my mission still didn't want to change, maybe it was time to try something else.

Good thing I didn't really act on those feelings or I would be in a big mess today.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if this past year has taught me anything it's that to learn from the past is good if you don't dwell there too long. People have to make their own decisions and more often than not, they will pick right in the end. You owe it to them to believe that.

Life isn't any easier after the mission, but you do have a few more tricks up your sleeve.

 More recently, I've seen that people who didn't serve a mission or had to come home early can be just as (or more) spiritual and awesome as those who bear the RM pin.

And most importantly;

It was the hardest, hottest, driest two years of my life...and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Everything STILL is awesome,

Austin Phillips 

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Last Word

September 5, 2016

El Fin Se Acera...The End Is Coming

A few months ago in Chanaral, my previous area, we visited a part member family (known to all of you from past posts as the fisherman).  For a whole transfer we had tried to meet him without success--with my new companion wondering why we kept walking to the end of the city every other day to just hear that this guy wasn’t home.  In our weekly planning we disagreed about if we should drop him from our list, but something within me said, "Keep trying with him."  A couple of days later we found him working in his backyard with his friends, and for some reason I felt uncomfortable--and trying not to bother them that much I almost said we would come back another day.  At that point my fearless companion stepped in and asked them if they would come into the house to share a scripture (this is why we have companions--teamwork in action!).   The next lesson he asked us how he could be baptized. We set the wedding and baptismal date for the 2rd and 3rd of September.

We had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Chanaral for his baptism on Saturday, and what an amazing experience it was!  When we saw him and his family enter in the chapel we actually screamed with happiness.  Elder A. baptized him and afterwards I asked him how he felt about his baptism.

He stared at me and said, "I don’t know how to describe it but it was as if every step I took down into the water I entered more and more into God’s love until I was filled.  When Elder A. put me under the water I felt that God was really cleansing me, changing me into a new man."

Wow, time and time again on my mission I’ve seen that it’s really not me who does this work--yes I walk, teach, and baptize, but I didn’t cause these people to change inside, I didn’t cause that burning feeling within their heart.  What could it be but the very power of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?  What a great testimony to me of the reality of God and His love for his children.

As we prepared to leave, our fisherman came up to me with tears welling in his eyes:

"Elder Phillips. I know not many people opened their doors to you. But to those who did, you made all the difference, like you have for me."

Am I happy about my mission? Am I happy I came? Was it worth it? Did I do enough good? Would I do it again given the chance? What could I have done better? Am I better?

I suppose all of these questions swirl around in the mind of every missionary as they end their mission.

During my personal study, one other question came into my head: "Lord, art thou pleased with the mission I served for thee?"  God likes to answer me with questions and this time He whispered to my heart, "Elder Phillips, did you gain a testimony of my Son?"

I thought about all my experiences through the course of these two years.

"Yes, Lord. Jesus Christ really is the Savior, the Son of God.  I know He went to that sacred garden many years ago to pay a ransom for my sins--paying with his perfect blood those things I can’t change without him."

"Well, son. Then what else matters?"

What a profound statement and spiritual experience.  It caused me to reflect on the words of my favorite children’s hymn:

This Is My Beloved Son

Jesus entered Jordan's waters
When His work had just begun.
God the Father spoke from heaven:
"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

Nephites gazing into heaven
Saw their white-robed Savior come.
And they heard the Father witness:
"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

Joseph saw two glorious beings
Shining brighter than the sun.
God again presented Jesus:
"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

As I read the scriptures daily--
Words of Christ, the Holy One--
In my heart I'll hear God tell me:
"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

And as a missionary for life my cry to the world:

This is my beloved Savior. Hear Him!!

That’s what missionary work is all about.  He speaks to all but not all are listening, but when at that point in their life they ache to hear, we will be there to tell them that there is hope in this world, there is light, there is peace, there are prophets who walk the earth, there is a God who wants to talk to them, there is a Savior who paid for them, there are other testaments of Christ, there is a spirit who will testify of this truth, there is a way to get rid of the sins and guilt, and if we are faithful, there is a happy ending.

Thank you to all who have helped me in this hard journey.  It’s been wonderful and I’m excited to see all of you again, but it is hard to leave people you’ve grown to love.

But as we all know, and I truly believe,

Everything is awesome,

Elder Phillips

These dusty shoes are coming home!

Ward Missionary Activity 

Street signs of the areas I have served 

Baptism Day!

More Friends


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Two Years To Two Weeks

August 29, 2016

Hola familia!!!

The mission is weird because you can be 6 months in or 23 months in and you can’t tell the difference. Some may think it is like a climatic thriller but I would better compare it to long history book--lots of migration, settlement, wars of opinions, and the occasional victory!  There are many dull days, but it does have its moments that make it all worth it.

I wouldn’t know I’m ending except that EVERYONE here (mainly my companion) reminds me everyday haha.  But I made a goal my first night in the CCM (missionary training center) that I would work till the end, and I plan to do just that.

This week was good.  Never thought I would make it to this point, but I ate fish head soup and it didn’t gross me out! It must have had magical powers because after lunch we were all knocked out for a good half hour. haha

We are a little concerned for our investigator whose baptism is planned for the 10th, hope it works out!  It would be an awesome way to send me off.  The mission this month had 94 baptisms, more than we’ve had in 5 years so that was exciting!  I’m sure we will be celebrating that in leadership training this week.

On Saturdays we are doing the impossible: teaching the Old Testament in Spanish to a group of active seminary teens.  If they learn anything it will be a miracle!

Well, if you want to write me it needs to be by this Sunday night the 4th—Monday, September 5th will be my last regular pday. The following week I will be traveling to the mission home in Antofagasta—the first leg on my way home!

Have a great week!

Everything is awesome,

Elder Phillips

The District
Formal Group Shot

My Apartment Kitchen
Study Area
Poor dog was accidentally locked in the churchyard--we let him out and he was fine.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Out With The Old, In With The New

August 22, 2016

Hola familia y amigos y todos las personas casándose (stop doing that it’s freaking me out),

mom clarification—for the Spanish challenged I think las personas casandose is something to do with people getting married.  Several of his friends have married recently,

Not many emails left. Crazy.

Back to earth.  This week we were working with a former investigator who stopped progressing because she had made promises to the Virgin Mary and needed to complete them.  I’m not very good with this situation since this doctrine has never made any sense to me, but we tried to talk to her about it.

"Hermana", we began to explain,"We believe in the virgin Mary--she's the mother of the most important person who has ever lived! But, why do you think Jesus is important?  Because He is the only one who gave His life for our sins. He paid the price--so on spiritual matters, we are on His terms.  And how do you imagine the last judgment? From what the scriptures tell us, we will be standing in front of Him and the Father.  We will stare in His eyes and He into ours. No one will be between us."

She thought about it and in the silence I asked, "Hermana, I know you know this is true.  When you make the necessary changes in your life, will you be baptized into Christ’s church?"

......."Well, I’ve been avoiding this for too long. Yes, I’ll do it."

"Will you be baptized the 10th of September?"

"Yes".   Bakan! (Awesome!)  Hope everything works out :P

All the other missionaries ask me how I’m doing with three weeks left. Honestly, I feel normal. Maybe because it hasn’t hit me yet.  The only time I really think about going home is when I finally throw my head on the pillow and I think about how much longer I will have to sleep on this uncomfortable mattress haha.

As I’ve talked with my companion this week, I’ve been reminded how awesome the mission is.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been MANY times when I just wanted to rip my hair out, lie on the floor and eat a hamburger, but the confirmation of eternal truths that I now have can’t be paralleled by any other experience.

Except maybe marriage...or at least that’s what they keep telling me. uggggggg.

Everything is awesome,

Elder Phillips
Went fishing for Pday--it is winter here right now

Dinner tonight!

My Chile Jersey

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Living on the Streets of Chile--Just Kidding

August 15, 2016

Hola y hello!

Our top priority this week (after baptizing people of course) was finding a house to live in because we were going to be homeless as of today.  The real mission experience! haha But we found a nice apartment behind another house where their recently deceased grandma lived.  It has its charm.  And there are trees—with birds—unusual for my part of Chile.

This week we were able to get to know more people.  They all said they would go to church.  But they all forgot about the time change this week where it moved one hour back.  I was getting ready for my unexpected talk with 5 minutes to spare when I looked up and saw a bunch of empty chairs and the other two missionaries, no one else.  Slowly people trickled in 30 minutes to an hour later with dazed looks in their eyes.

We teach a religion class called seminary to the teenagers on Saturdays—this year it is the Old Testament.  Wish I would have paid more attention my sophomore year of high school when I had it haha (sorry mom—she was my teacher). I love the book of Job--especially the part where his 3 friends began to tempt him to forsake God and die.  How many times in life, (and for me even more in the mission) have I been tempted to throw in the towel, curse God, and walk away from everything.  I think to myself, " Do I really have to do all this stuff to be saved? All I hear all day is that if I have God in my heart, I’m a good person, I'll be saved. Maybe they are right." But then another familiar voice comes: "Elder Phillips, you’ve had too many experiences confirming the importance of living the commandments. Keep your course."

It’s tempting to deny the promptings, say it’s all in your head and that some scientific theory must have the explanation so why bother.  But no. That would be just blasphemy for me now. Give God the chance he deserves.

Well, have a good week!  See you in a month!

Everything is awesome,
Elder Phillips

Tag Pic 
Birthday Party
Yum Cake
Service Project
Having Fun

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Opening My Last Area

August 8, 2016

Hola a todos!

This week was pretty hectic coming to our new area in the little town of Tal Tal. There are four missionaries here and two different apartments but our mission president told us we need to save money and live together so we spent our first day moving the other elders to our apartment.  "We have another one big enough for the four of you all set up so don’t worry--we are ending the contract of yours too.”  Well now the apartment they had lined up has fallen through and we will soon be living on the streets...jk

I’ve learned the importance of writing down all we do as missionaries in the area book with all the addresses and such, because the one we have has almost no information--meaning we spent most of our time this week walking around trying to find the people the previous missionaries were working with.

But we were able to meet a lady who was baptized 2 weeks ago.  Her whole life she was a very active evangelist until her recently converted son invited her to church.

"I just felt so amazing and had so much peace. I wanted to know why, so the missionaries came over and explained the Book of Mormon. At first I rejected it, but after a few nights of reading, tears dripped on its pages from the wonderful feelings that I couldn’t deny," she expressed.  How grateful I am for the Book of Mormon in missionary work--it does like 70% of the work for us.

Received my flight plans home today, ugg.  Que loco—I will be home September 14th!!!  Well, as I learned at the start of my mission in the CCM, work hard until they tell you it’s time to go home.  I’ll try to do that, but not just in the sense of coming home from the mission, but working hard until we go home to the Father. :P

Everything is awesome,
Elder Phillips

Good to Catch Up
Scenic Drive to Tal Tal

Missionary Photo Board
Sister Missionaries on Pday