The party was awesome (pictures to come) and my talk went great! Thanks to everyone for coming!
Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Ray Banks and I’ve been called to serve in the Italy Catania Mission. I’ve actually been in this ward for abut four years, although for the last year and a half I’ve been attending student wards or been away. But this is my home ward and where I’ll be leaving from.
For those of you who do know me, you probably know that I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese (dust off shoulder), I’m half Chinese, my mother is from Taiwan, and my father served his mission in Taiwan. So naturally, when I opened my mission call, I thought it would be to Taiwan. Or at least Canada Chinese Speaking, or maybe the Australia Sydney North mandarin speaking mission.
So you can probably guess that I was completely shocked when I opened up my call to Italy. I was actually on a road trip with my family to California, so I didn’t even get to look up anything about the area for awhile. While we were driving I called some of my closest friends and relatives telling them I had been called to CATaNIA, and half of them thought I said I had been called to Catalina Island. So to clarify, I won’t be going to an island off the coast of California, but I’ll be going to an island off the coast of southern Italy. Catania, Italy, and no, I don’t speak any Italian. But anyway, since getting my mission call I have had the opportunity to look up some things about Italy.
One thing I did is read the BYU culture-gram about Italy. It said three things that stood out to me:
1. Italians consider social interaction very important; they try not to miss social events such as parties and celebrations.
2. When eating with guests, Italians usually do not hurry, a meal may last one to four hours
3. Soccer is by far the most popular sport
And that’s when I knew that it was the perfect call for me. So in preparation for my mission, I’ve been adapting to Italian culture by going to all the dances and parties at Dixie State College, spending hours eating dinner, and practicing my soccer skills.
But my dad kind of burst my bubble a little when he told me “Ray, you’re not going to Italy to become an Italian, you’re going to Italy to become a missionary”, so I’ve also been doing what I can to prepare spiritually. Which sort of brings me to my topic, which is testimony and prayer. Because as I’ve been preparing spiritually for my mission, I’ve been building my testimony (by reading the scriptures and preach my gospel and going to the temple) and I’ve also been praying about a lot things.
To start off, I’d like to do something that always bugs me: Ask a ridiculously simple church question. The problem with answering these is trying to come up with a perfect answer. Last week, my book of mormon teacher did this, and it took the class about five minutes to come up with a decent answer. The question I want to ask is, what is a testimony? But I’m just going to give you the definition as it’s written in True to the Faith:
A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that we are led by a living prophet today; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on the earth.
I really like how that sums up our basic beliefs, and gives the core of a testimony. The way we can actually know that these things are true is through a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. By praying and reading the scriptures we can receive this witness! In Moroni 10:3-5 it says regarding reading the scriptures:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how amerciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and bponder it in your chearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would aask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not btrue; and if ye shall ask with a csincere heart, with dreal intent, having efaith in Christ, he will fmanifest the gtruth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may aknow the btruth of all things.
And so you can see that, just like everything in the church, there’s a simple way to do it. You just need to read the scriptures and pray! Then once you get a testimony there are a lot of ways to build it up.
I know in my own life I started out by sort of bumming off my parents testimony. And then people say that you need to stop doing that, so I read the book of mormon, and prayed about it, and then gained my own testimony (it really worked!). But then, I actually built up my testimony a lot more through other people. It’s funny that I’m speaking with Craig today because when I started writing this talk I immediately thought of him. I remember the first time I heard him bear his testimony in church I thought, alright, that’s cool that craig bore his testimony. Then a few months later I remember he bore his testimony again and I thought, wow, Craig has got an awesome testimony! I was way impressed about how solid he is in the church, and hearing him testify of the truths of the Gospel kind of inspired me to be better about paying attention in church, studying my scriptures, and just living the principles I’ve learned.
And that’s one of the great ways to build our testimonies! By listening to the testimonies of others and by bearing our own testimonies!
Our Prophet, Thomas S. Monson said: “Regarding one’s testimony, remember, that which one willingly shares he keeps, while that which he selfishly keeps he loses…..Teach and testify. There is no better combination.”
So you see how important it is to bear our testimony.
I remember one time after fast and testimony meeting I actually felt really stupid that I didn't bear my testimony, because I know the church is true and I wanted to tell someone. So when I got home I just bore my testimony to my mom, because it's important to tell someone.
When we bear our testimony it will be especially beneficial if we speak by the Holy Ghost
2 nephi 33:1
1 And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I amighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man bspeaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.
Going back to Craig, the experience I had also shows how peers can have a positive influence on your testimony. Three of my best friends, all went on missions this summer. What a blessing it is to have three great examples like that. And they have all helped me build my testimony. Just little things like, Ray, I don’t think you should do that, or…are you going to read your scriptures before you go to bed, or Ray, I slept in too but there’s a ward in green springs that meets at 2:50, so we can still go to sacrament.
I know that sounds a bit extreme, I usually don’t sleep in that late. And I know I’ll be making some adjustments to my sleep schedule for my mission.
When I followed the counsel of my friends, my testimony was strengthened as I obeyed the commandments.
And that’s another way we can build up our testimonies, just by obeying the commandments. I think that’s really cool cause let’s take, for example, if you didn’t have a testimony, but your parents made you go to church. Then you would learn the commandments and what you’re supposed to do. Of course it’s still your choice to pay attention and choose the right, but if you give it a try, you’ll gain a testimony! In John 7:17 is says:
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine…”
So basically that means that if we do God’s will, we’ll know of the doctrine, or have a testimony!
Now let me talk to you about prayer. As I mentioned earlier, we can pray to know the church is true, and then receive a confirmation by the Holy Ghost. But really we can pray for everything. Usually I just go to rap artists for a good beat, and I don’t usually recommend following the example of any rap artists, but Mac Dre, a famous bay area rapper, actually set a good example regarding prayer. In one of his songs he said, “I P-R-A-Y every D-A-Y” And another famous rapper, Lil Wayne said, “Before I sleep I pray to the Lord” This is some good advice. But they’re still probably not the best to go to for spiritual advice, so if we refer to the scriptures, in Alma 37:37 it says:
37 aCounsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for bgood; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the cmorning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
I know through personal experience that when we counsel with the Lord our prayers are answered.
This last year I went to school at Brigham Young University – Hawaii. That college has some significance in my family. Not only is it where my parents met, but it is also where my mother was converted to the Gospel. She was actually baptized in a sunrise service just a few blocks from BYUH at Temple Beach. My mother is a convert, and so she knows what a great blessing missionaries can be. So she is excited for me to leave on my mission so that I can go and Preach the Gospel, and share with others the same message that she first heard that changed her life. And I’m sure she’ll be praying for me on my mission.
Going back to my testimony of prayer… not long after I got to Hawaii, I had my 18th Birthday. I had started to hang out with kids that all had longboard skateboards. So for my birthday all I really wanted was to get a longboard. And I have parents that love me, so for my birthday they sent me one.! I was overjoyed! I started riding it everywhere. About two days after I got it I rode it to the library to study, and left it on the skateboard rack outside the building. When I got done studying, it was gone. It had been stolen!
The year before that when I had only wanted one thing for my birthday it was an iPod, and that had gotten stolen. It seemed like whenever I got something I really loved, it just got stolen! So getting my longboard stolen last year actually hit me pretty hard, and made me really sad. I went out for a walk on my own and just started thinking. I thought, when I get something nice, it just gets stolen. Then I thought, so I guess there’s no point in having nice stuff. Then I thought, but what about developing skills? Well, if you develop skills, you could just get injured, and then you would lose that. Then I thought to myself, what about good friends? Well, you or your friends may just move away and then lose contact with each other. I thought to myself, what is the point of even doing anything?! I’m here going to school, and learning all kinds of stuff, but what if I got in a car accident and went brain dead. There’s really no point in doing anything! (looking back all my thoughts seem ridiculous, but you have to realize that I really loved that longboard). In all my sadness and self-pity, I decided to pray. I prayed that I could somehow get my longboard back, that I could be happy again, and that I could know what is even worth doing because it seems like you can just lose everything.
In our prayers we can have a tendency to be too general, please bless, please help, but if we pray with faith, we can actually be a lot more specific in our prayers, and then receive specific answers.
And in this case, all my prayers were answered! Within two days of it getting stolen, the campus police watched the security tapes and got my longboard back from the guy whole stole it! And then of course I was back to being happy! And regarding the biggest question, what is even worth doing, I opened up my scriptures right to the page that has 3 Nephi 13:19-20
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where amoth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;
20 But lay up for yourselves atreasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
So then I knew that what is really important is that we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. And I also had my testimony of prayer strengthened, and I knew that God really cares about me.
This whole story is a bit reminiscent of an article in this last month’s Ensign by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. It was about the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. In the article it says that “everyone…will be called upon to face trying times…We must not succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear our prayers. He does hear us. He does see us. He does love us.”
So when times get hard, like our stuff gets stolen, or we don’t have any money because of the economy, we just need to endure, and use the hard times as an opportunity for growth and ask for help. Even when the Prophet was in Liberty Jail it became like a temple because of his testimony and faith. Elder Holland says “you can have sacred, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life – in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.”
So we can actually be thankful for the hard times because we can have sacred experiences if we approach them with the right attitude. Looking back at my experience, I actually think it’s way funny the scripture that I opened up to, and it taught me a valuable lesson. It also gave me something to talk about in my farewell talk, so thank goodness for that!
In closing, of course I’d like to bare my testimony, but before I do I want to tell you about one of my friends in Hawaii that really helped strengthen mine. Right before the semester ended he bore his testimony in church. For most of his testimony he talked about how exciting it was to get his mission call, and how he wouldn’t be able to body surf for the next two years, because everyone knows that he loves to body surf. But then at the end he said that although he doesn’t know everything about the Gospel, he has a simple, but strong testimony, and he felt ready to serve a mission.
I feel exactly the same way. I don’t know everything about the church, but I do know that it is the right church, the true church, and that we have a living prophet on the earth, President Thomas S. Monson. He’s an awesome guy. I know that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and that he restored the gospel. I also know that through prayer and scripture study we can build our testimonies and live worthily, and that our example can help others in their lives. I know that through Jesus Atonement we can repent and become worthy. And I also know that God loves us, and cares about us. And I also would like to add that I love my family, and I’m thankful for them, and that they were able to come and support me, and for the example they are. And I’m thankful for the great friends that I have. I love you and know that you help me lead a better life.
And I definitely recommend a mission for anyone who's thinking about it. Cause in my mission call it actually says "Greater blessings and more happiness await you" And I'm a really happy guy, so if I can be more happy, that's just awesome!
And of course I’m thankful for this great opportunity to serve a mission, and I’m so excited that I really just wish I could go sooner. I know that it will be hard, but that through prayer I will have help as I preach the gospel. It’s like President Monson said “Remember that this work is not yours and mine alone. It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”
And so I’m sure that my mission in Italy will be great.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.