As this week we celebrated pioneer day, I thought a lot about what it means to be a modern day pioneer. President Monson had a wonderful home teaching message for July about being a modern day pioneer in an age of indifference and amorality. However, being a pioneer in relationship to the world is only part of the picture. The part that is most challenging is not the external struggles, persecution or mobs. The taunting and jeering that I felt from family or some friends only helped confirm to me that the church was true. Opposition in so many ways has helped to enlarge my testimony as no faith promoting account could. As the world grows darker, the light of the Gospel for me only grows darker…
The harder part of being a modern day pioneer is the internal spiritual journey. The fear of failing or falling short that never fully leaves. The worry that your future children will not appreciate what you have fought and sacrificed for. The fear that one day it will be for naught…. For me, those are the difficult parts of being a pioneer of faith. Stepping out into the spiritual void and hoping and wondering… Feeling like you are walking on water and hoping you do not start to sink.
This week was an emotion one for me as two events intersected. Last Saturday a friend of mine Victor who is from the Russian town of Angarsk was baptized here in Provo. I had known him when I first started my mission as he would come to the English club in Irkutsk each week. I helped teach him both in Russia and in Provo. Before baptism, he had really struggled to take that step of faith. He knew a lot about the Church but always seemed to need to see or hear or receive something more before baptism. I was so proud to see him enter the water’s of baptism as were the almost dozen individuals in attendance whom had taught Victor at some point as a missionary. Victor’s journey on the straight and narrow path begins. If he continues faithfully, I know he will be an instrument in the hands of God to bless many. He will bring countless to Christ;..Yet it is always melancholy knowing that Satan does not and can not stop. One righteous pioneer influences thousands of souls and countless generations, and so he will keep trying to lead astray.
In stark contrast to the baptism of Victor, this week I also heard about a tragedy. Maxim an individual that I had taught in Krasnoyark passed away. Maxim was one investigator that really meant the world to me. I met him my first day in the city. He was blind and sat in a wheel chair as well having lost his leg to frostbite. Maxim was homeless and living in an assisted living center. Thought he couldn’t read, we got him an MP3 player with the Book of Mormon on it. He devoured it and each time we met with him he was filled with greater joy. When he first came to the church building he became emotional and spoke about how it felt like home. We helped him to quit smoking and the branch president helped him get a passport so he could qualify for benefits. Maxim showed incredible faith preparing for baptism. I was honored to help him enter the waters of baptism as another convert Mixail baptized him. I also confirmed him and gave him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And yet, tragically Satan continued to try to pull him back down. An old girlfriend came back into his life and led him back to drinking, drugs and sexual relations. I left the city, but heard of these developments and wished I could help him. He had so much promise and in him I saw how the gospel could change lives. One day, I am sure that I will see Maxim again on the other side of the veil. We will embrace and see eye to eye. Even though he made choices that took him away from God, I will never forget how his countenance radiated as he exited the waters after his baptism. His life was touched by the light of the gospel. He too was a pioneer even if he eventually lost his way.
I have a strong testimony that we are all in fact pioneers building the Kingdom of God. In each and every calling and in our day to day lives we are helping to establish Zion. What we do blesses generation. It truly matters. I am so grateful for the Gospel of Christ and all the blessings I have received because of it.