Hastening the Work Through Technology

Ok, so my Sundays and Mondays are insanely hectic, so I am going to try to make posts for those days ahead of time. Those posts will most likely be shorter messages and words of inspiration rather than the editorial-type posts I normally create, simply because of time constraints.

Anywho, so I have received some emails from family members who are curious as to what exactly how we use technology to spread the gospel in the Salt Lake City West mission. I had answered such questions before with short answers, but I decided to make a comprehensive explanation about this during my email time yesterday. Here is what I wrote.

Okay, so my mission (Salt Lake City West) is one of two missions in the world that are fully incorporating technology into the mission field. The other mission is Santa Rosa California. Basically, we use Facebook, iPads, mormon.org chat, and blogs to share the Gospel. Specifically, it gets a little bit more complicated. I am going to call the different technologies “Hasteners.” For sake of clarity, I am also going to split up the four different ways we use the technologies and how they are connected. I will start with the iPads.
iPads
When I was told we were getting iPads as missionaries, I almost didn’t believe it. It was my first day in the mission and I honestly thought my trainer was just playing a joke on me. Lo and behold, two weeks later we were all armed with a new digital storage of Gospel material to share.
 
How do we use it?
We use the iPads primarily as mobile gospel libraries. We have access to an advanced version of the church-sponsored Gospel Library app that includes many extra categories of manuals and missionary-specific help. We use the iPads during personal study to take notes, read the scriptures, and study Conference talks. Our notes sync with our lds.org accounts, meaning we can access them digitally on any computer, even after our missions. While studying is awesome, they are even more useful with the Areabook app. We are beta-testing an application created by a third-party programming team that consists of 6 guys from the church. I believe they worked with Go-Daddy to set up the program framework and server-side nuts and bolts, but I am not completely sure. The Areabook app allows us access to area-specific information, giving us investigator information and basic member information such as addresses, callings, and phone numbers. We use it at night to plan for the next day, which we then sync with our companion’s changes. It comes with a calendar, investigator list (replete with color-coded dots to specify different types of people), task list, and goal-setting feature. The program automatically updates our lesson numbers when we input the lesson info, such as principles taught, invitations extended, and commitments keeping. We also use the iPads as communication devices amongst missionaries using iMessenger. We also use the iPads to post to Facebook.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
Well, we were told that a group from the missionary work committee of the Church presented the idea of iPads to the Twelve. They immediately voted on it with Elder Perry standing up and announcing that this was the next big step for missionary work and he saw no problem with it. They unanimously voted, without counseling among themselves, that the presentation be given to the First Presidency. At the end of the presentation, President Monson turned to President Uchtdorf and President Eyring and said, “I see nothing wrong with this. Do you?” The other two of course agreed and that was that. They decided that our two missions would be the test-beds of the project, working to iron out the problems and streamlining the process. We were told in the meeting where we received the iPads that if we did not use the iPads to plan study, etc, we were actually holding back the hastening of the work. I had no problem with this of course.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
Well, because of various OS Profiles the Church has placed on the devices, we are not allowed access to the app store, cannot download any unapproved applications, have a white-list of websites we are allowed to access, and are of course limited to internet access by where wifi is located.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
We use the iPads to connect to Facebook and chat with people through Skype. Out of the four Hasteners, this is the least connected, primarily due to the restricted nature of the device. Technically, I can use my iPad to post to my blog through email, but it certainly a little tedious to do so.
Facebook
Facebook is the most readily-visible change in missionary work. While we were the first mission to have Facebook access, many more missions are able to access it now (primarily missions in the US). Feel free to add your local missionaries if they are on Facebook!
How do we use it?
We use Facebook to post inspirational messages and communicate with investigators/less active members who are interested in the Gospel. We also use Facebook to coordinate events such as baptisms. Facebook is a high-visibility way to spread the Gospel.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I don’t know the story about how it came about, but I do know that the Church has been testing missionaries on Facebook for quite some time, especially service missionaries. If you think about it, Facebook is a great way to share Gospel principles with your friends and family. The Internet has been provided to us as a gift from God, a miracle in ability to spread information and learn eternal truths. It just so happens that we are now taking advantage of the gift.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
We are given 1-2 hours a day to access Facebook. We may use that time to teach an investigator or two and post an inspirational message. We are encouraged to post once a day. We are advised to Like Gospel-related topics and Share inspirational messages from other missionaries. We are not to post anything that is not Gospel or missionary work related. We can only Friend other missionaries who are in our district. We are allowed to be Friends with people back home as long as they are not active members or family members. This is for the purpose of teaching people back home one-on-one. Elders and Sisters cannot be friends on Facebook if they are in the same mission, but are allowed to Follow each other. Additionally, family members and such can Follow the missionaries (no friend requests please!). We are to deactivate our old Facebook accounts from before our missions in order to assist people in finding the new account better.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
I use Facebook primarily as a visibility platform for my blog. I have used it before to contact a friend back home to try and set him up with a missionary visit, but haven’t had many chances to talk to him. Really, Facebook is the nucleus of our online efforts. We try and get members to share our messages with the people who we are not friends with. I know of many missionaries who have received friend requests from people interested in speaking more with the missionaries because of such a message.
Blogs
Blogs are the least-visible of the Hasteners and require quite a bit of effort to maintain and grow. This means many missionaries do not have a blog. Through the use of tags and commenting on other blogs, blogs can be a powerful tool to share longer, more meaningful Gospel messages..
How do we use it?
Because there are so few, I can’t really give a general idea of how blogs are used, but I can tell you what I use mine for. I am partial to the blog medium because of its potential to reach a worldwide audience within the blogosphere. There are tons of people who spend their time on the internet to just look at other people’s blogs. Through tags and categories, as well as careful cultivation of comments and likes on other blogs, you can get people who are interested in specific subjects to visit your blog. It helps if the blog is funny and interesting. I use mine to describe what I learned that day from my mission. It is a daily blog, which not many people choose to do because of the amount of work it takes, but I am a pretty fast typer, so I enjoy it. I have already had my blog linked to on a prominent Mormon blog that is widely-viewed. I use WordPress, which I have been very pleased with. It has a very comprehensive connectivity feature, allowing it to link to Facebook and other social networking sites. Additionally, it provides useful stats such as: views per day, geological location of viewers, tags that have gotten the most views, and much more. Very helpful stuff for someone trying to get his blog known as much as possible.
 
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I know very little about why we are allowed to have blogs, other than it is another outlet for missionary communication and the reasons I explained above.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
I am not aware of any restrictions placed on blogs, other than to be careful about how many times we post a day and that WordPress and Blogspot are the only “approved” blogging sites. There is nothing that says we can’t use Tumblr or another type of blogging site, though I do avoid Tumble simply because of its distracting and often inappropriate nature. The same time limitations for Facebook are also placed on blogs.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
Blogs are used to provide more in-depth content than your average Facebook post. Where Facebook posts are designed to be read quickly and provide interest for the minimum words required, blogs cater to people who are more interested in editorial-length explanations and opinions. Facebook is a great platform to get your blog publicity. It doesn’t really connect with the iPad unless they allow us access to a blogging app (which I hope).
Mormon.org
So this one is kind of interesting. Mormon.org chat has been used longer than any of the other Hasteners. It is a platform designed to answer specific questions from investigators and members from around the world, catering to random people who want to know more about the Church. Missionaries in my mission have catalyzed baptisms in the US, Europe, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Australia, you name it. Mormon.org has arguably had the strongest impact on missionary work, as we teach online lessons that are pretty much the lessons we would give if we were face-to-face with the investigator.
I am not going to go into any more detail with mormon.org chat because it is fairly self-explanatory. People can talk to real-life missionaries who will answer their questions. It is difficult to do, especially if the investigator is bad at typing or has a question for something very tedious to answer through chatting on the internet. We get many people who just try to mess with the missionaries, but there are many people who are genuinely seeking knowledge. Those lessons are awesome.
Okay, that was long, but I hope it provides a bit of an explanation as to what we do with all this technology we have access to. If you have any specific questions, please ask! Like I said, feel free to share this with anyone you want. It is not an official explanation, but I spent some good time on this, trying to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Cheers!
Elder Dunford

The Small Things

I was riding my bike yesterday, when I realized that I really liked riding over the dry leaves that had fallen recently. They are normally fun to step on, but steering a bike through a patch of leaves to hit as many as possible is so much more satisfying. As I sped along to our next appointment, hitting leaves along the way of course, I realized that sometimes the small things in life are the most enjoyable. In celebration of the things in life that give me so much joy, I have decided to post every Saturday about the small things that have given me joy throughout the week. I invite everyone to comment on this and add their own small things during the week 🙂

Small Things this week:

  • Leaf Crunching (bonus points if on a bike)
    • See above paragraph for explanation 🙂
  • Stepping indoors when it is cold and rainy
    • Having that comfort of a warm house fill your body after traveling the whole day in the cold wind and rain is such a great feeling. Taking off wet outer-clothes and feeling warmth return to your cheeks and nose with the satisfaction of a hard day’s work is fantastic.
  • Finally remembering Something you have tried to remember the whole day
    • Ah ha! My brain does work! Good job mind! *high-fives head, gets headache*
“Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” President Gordon B. Hinckley

Broken Vessels

So this year’s General Conference covered a myriad of different subjects, from a woman’s necessary role in the world to the blessings of paying tithing. In this spiritually uplifting meeting, there was one talk that was very different than the rest: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk during the Saturday afternoon session of conference. Elder Holland spoke on depression, a very real enemy in the stressful world of today. His talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” reminded me of my own struggles with depression early in high school and college. I won’t go into the details of my own struggles, mostly because they were very minor compared to many people’s battles with depression, but I will pull a few quotes from the talk that affected me most.

“…today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!”

Depression is so much more that merely a bout of mild discouragement, it is a crippling curse on the mind. I greatly appreciated that Elder Holland explained how serious depression is. It truly does affect one’s ability to think clearly and see anything positive in life. When I suffered through my mild depression, I wasn’t even able to plan more than a day ahead. Surrounded by the shadows created by my own worries and doubts, I lived day-by-day, struggling to do something that would give me a sense of purpose or accomplishment. Even thinking about it now gives a feeling of dread in my stomach that it could happen again. Luckily, I eventually found the answer that Elder Holland described later in the talk.

“So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend.”

Like a ray of sunlight that pierces the dark clouds of a dispersing storm, I remembered my Heavenly Father and His love. I remembered that I could pray to him and ask him for strength. I remembered that He, above anyone else, could actually understand what I was going through internally. Where I was feeling such horrible anguish at the state of my life, I was able to see how great a gift it truly was. The skies cleared, and the sun shown brightly once again.

“Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”

This is the most powerful statement in the entire talk (in my opinion). While I never really considered ending my life as an option, I know that there are those who can see no other way to end the pain. Like Elder Holland pleas, do not end your life. There really is so much more to live for, but often the only way to overcome the darkness is to look towards the source of eternal light, God our Heavenly Father.

The divine potter is the perfect craftsman, able to fix any crack in the broken vessels of our souls. All He requires is that we reach out and grab the hand that He has offered us. Prayer, fasting, and pondering the scriptures, coupled with faith, allow us to grab that hand and begin the long process of mending the broken vessels. My invitation today is to everyone who is currently experiencing depression to reach out and turn to the divine potter. To those who have already trudged through that dark and lonely road, turn to help those who need your experience. Help them to see the light that got you through and provide support in their time of need.

Heavenly Communication

Some days, it seems like all I do is pray. I pray that we can have lessons, that people will be open to our message, that my family will be safe while I am gone, that we will be safe on our bikes, etc. There are a ton of things that I pray about, especially during days that it seems like nothing is going right for me. Sometimes I feel like I pray so much that I’m not sure God even wants to hear from me anymore! I don’t want to seem needy, but there is a lot of stuff in my life that I have no control over, so why not ask God to help out?

Someone told me the other day that they don’t pray because they feel like if they did pray, it would be hypocritical. They hadn’t prayed for all this time, why would God want to suddenly start to listen? Surely He has better things to do than listen to someone who has never made the effort to even talk before.

Well, like I told that person, it is never ever too late to pray. God is our Father in Heaven, and like any good father, He wants to hear from His children. Because He loves us so much, God has provided a way for us to communicate with Him, for the human race to continue to feel His presence even after the events in the Garden of Eden. Prayer is the way for us to receive divine inspiration, answers to life’s most burning questions, and guidance for difficult choices.

There is a fantastic article on lds.org that explains how to pray and seek answers. It can be found here. My invitation to everyone is to read this article and get some heavenly communication going! I promise that your life will change for the better and that your spirituality will be greatly increased.

Given to Wonder

If asked what my favorite hobby was, I would say daydreaming. I love to think about far-off places and run through fantastic scenarios normally found in some kind of blockbuster film. It is a pretty great way to kill time when you are bored or to help you fall asleep quickly. Occasionally, this tendency to allow my mind wander leads to the biggest questions of life, such as “What is the point of life?” and “Did I leave the iron on?” Okay, not so much the second question (I am very good about unplugging the iron when I am done!), but questions like the first one have plagued mankind for centuries, especially today. Life is pretty insane when you think about it, especially when you consider that you are only one of billions of people who live on the Earth today. It is no surprise that there are many people who wander about life without a particular direction, changing their heading wherever the wind blows them. What do they daydream about?

I don’t know the answer to that question, not exactly, but I do know that having some kind of anchor in life really helps put stuff into perspective. My own personal anchor is the best one, in my opinion. I choose to anchor my life around the teachings of Jesus Christ and what the LDS church teaches, namely that we are here to improve ourselves and that every single trial we go through, every pain we feel, is merely educational. It is really, really hard to see this during that particular trial, but we can always (but may not choose to) see how some tribulation helped us and made us better. I think that may be where the saying, “hindsight is 20/20” came from.

My invitation today is to get a little introspective. Think for a couple minutes about the hardest trial you have ever gone through and figure out how that trial made you a better person. What did you learn? How did your perspective on life change? My goal is for everyone to say, “Wow that really sucked, but at least I learned something from it.”

If you are curious as to how this perspective helped me through some crazy stuff in my life, check out my profile on mormon.org. Click the word “profile” or the white box with an orange border in the corner of my page. My story is near the bottom of the page 🙂 I will probably make a post about what I learned from that experience in the future, but there is the story.

Children of God

Well, my blog has already failed to live up to its name, Sunday and Monday were crazy and I didn’t get a chance to post anything. Sorry!

Here in Utah, I work with people from all walks of life. I don’t have a good story to go along with this post unfortunately, but I just want to point out something that I wish more people would realize: we are all part of the Human Condition, which also means that we are God’s children. We have all been placed on Earth, eternal beings going through a mortal experience, to learn and grow. Our Heavenly Father has a plan for us in this life, wanting us to experience everything life has to offer in order to prepare us for our future in His kingdom.

We are all God’s children. Think about that phrase for a second. If we are children to a Heavenly Father, by extension we are all brothers and sisters going through the same experiences with the same worries, joys, troubles, and feelings. Whenever we (missionaries) teach someone, we spend a few minutes learning about the person, getting to know them a little better. We find out what they are stressed about and what their beliefs are. We ask them what they like to do in their free time and what they feel about God. Most of all, we ask them what we can do to help them and what they want to know about God and our beliefs surrounding Him. Just by spending a couple minutes with someone and doing nothing but focusing on them and their needs, an entire life story unfolds. Instead of just a random Hispanic man who decided to let us into his house, he becomes Antonio Silva, a single man from Bolivia who has five kids (all girls), works from 7 am to 8 pm at a construction site, really likes the Lakers (he has three signed jerseys), and is struggling to help his girls have everything he never had growing up. He cares so much about his family, but doesn’t know what he can do to help them, especially since his wife died two years ago in a car accident. Antonio Silva may or may not exist, but there is somewhere out there who is in his situation. How would we possibly know the facts about his life, his own reasons for living, without even asking him about his day?

My invitation to everyone today is to talk to someone you don’t know and ask them how their day is going. Ask them about their family and where they work. Share about yourself, your interests, and your own family. It doesn’t have to be someone you don’t know, just someone you don’t know as well as you could. You have the chance to make someone’s day and make a friend at the same time, all you have to do is talk. If there is one thing that I wish I could go back and change before my mission, it would be to talk to all of the people that I sat next to on the bus without exchanging one word, every person who sat alone in the back of a lecture hall, and the neighbor across the street whose house I saw every day when I woke up in the morning. I almost can’t believe that I missed so many opportunities to learn about someone else and maybe help them out with their troubles. Talking to complete strangers isn’t easy, but it is worth it. You never know when a kind word or sincere interest in someone’s life can make all the difference.

Talk to someone. We are all brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we treat each other that way?

The Cycle of Concentration

Like it says in my About page, I was called to Utah to speak Spanish in order to better teach the people that live in this area. There are many Hispanics here from a myriad of different countries, all with different accents and dialects. One thing that I learned quickly after I arrived here was that I have a very hard time understanding these different dialects if I am not concentrating with total focus. As time goes on, I have gotten much better at understanding people from the offset, but I am still required to give an inordinate amount of concentration to conversations. As people close to me know, I am pretty dang bad at concentrating on something for long periods of time. I am the kind of person whose mind tends to wander to the far-off reaches of the universe in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it takes much longer than that for me to recover my thoughts, by which time I have already missed an enormous portion of whatever conversation I was having with an investigator. This cycle usually goes on for a little while until I fully understand the person’s accent and can fully engage into the concentration. I am very glad I have a companion who has been speaking Spanish longer than I have!

I was thinking about this cycle of concentration (and the subsequent loss thereof), when I realized that we often experience the same cycle when we are trying to listen to what instructions God has for us. As a missionary, I have to try to keep myself as open to instruction and promptings by His Spirit as much as possible, but it certainly isn’t easy. Even in the mission field, where we limit distracting influences as much as possible, the world is constantly trying to get into our minds and push our thoughts away from God and His influence. We cannot expect to survive and thrive in the raucous noise of the world today without having our radios dialed in precisely to the frequency that the Spirit works. This often means separating ourselves from distracting stuff and making sure we are spiritually full. The saying is true that practice makes perfect, and staying in constant communication often means trying constantly to get it right. We are all spiritually inclined in different ways, for some it may mean listening to classical music, for others just reciting a scripture will get their mind back on track. For me, thinking about my missionary purpose and focusing on my love for the people I am teaching keeps my gaze centered on what is most important in my life and the work I am performing. No matter who we are, we can all practice being spiritually connected to God’s Word and seeking his guidance constantly.

Like all those goofy internet ads say, “Try this one weird trick” to help you keep yourself spiritually attuned and open to guidance from On High. What is that trick?

Pray.

If we pray, we are already opening the conduit between us and our Heavenly Father. We are showing our desire for guidance from Him when we pray. When you get out of bed in the morning, pray for the things you need help with for the day. During the day, try and think back on what you asked for and ponder about how God is answering your prayers. Writing yourself a sticky note and placing it somewhere prominent at work or around the house is a great way to remind yourself about your prayer. Finally, at the end of the day when you are about to get into bed, kneel down and offer thanks for every answer that you got that day. I can promise that God will answer your prayers, even though it may not be as quick as we’d like. If we pray every day, we will be so much more ready to receive and act on the guidance that God gives us.

“God should be the center of our universe—our literal focal point. Is He? Or is He sometimes far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts? (see Mosiah 5:13). Notice that it’s not just the thoughts of our hearts that are important but the “intents.” How do our behavior and actions reflect the integrity of our intents?” – excerpt from Elder Terence M. Vinson’s talk in the Oct 2013 LDS General Conference