Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When Obedience Trumps Revelation: A Controversial Personal Missionary Experience involving Healing the Sick

This Sunday during our Sunday School lesson we discussed receiving personal revelation where our instructor asked us to share a time when we received one.  I immediately thought of an experience I had as a missionary in my first assigned area Ragusa, Sicily but I didn't share it because it would have been negative in that setting. I want to share it here because I think it has merit in discussing when obedience might trump revelation depending on your perspective.

I was assigned my first area in Ragusa, Sicily.  The city had only been opened a couple of months and we were meeting in a cheese store on the other side of the town from our missionary flat.  I was assigned to the most dynamic missionary in the field who was a native Italian.  He had converted many people in the town of Siracusa where he had stood on a step stool and called the inhabitants to repentance.  He led the mission in baptisms and lessons taught.  There were two other companionships and our first district leader was an elder from Idaho.  After a couple of months he went home and was replaced by another elder who was very rigid in how he approached the work.

My companion and I were having great success in teaching several young adults at the time.  In fact I had the first baptism when Salvatore Cappello a teenage boy was baptized.  Before he was baptized we had another investigator that was quite popular in the community.  The young man would come with four or five friends at a time whenever we taught him.  He was a theology student at the university.  He was very sophisticated and could discuss religion and philosophy eloquently.  He had a mild disability and walked with a pronounced limp where he dragged one of his feet.

He seemed quite interested in the gospel and when it came time to commit him to baptism he told my companion that he would join the church if we would lay our hands on him and heal him.  My companion told him that we should not seek after signs but should join the church willingly.  At that time I felt that even though some kind cometh not out save by fasting and prayer the Spirit told me that I could heal him.  He began to get agitated that he desired to be healed and would join the church.  I told my companion the impression I received and told him to tell the man if he would fast and pray that I would lay my hands on his head and give him a blessing.  I knew in my heart that the Lord would heal him.

My senior companion wasn't sure what to do so he told the young man that we would meet again another time.  Before our appointed meeting my companion discussed the matter with our district leader.  He called me in and told me that under no circumstances would he let me lay hands on the man.  He said if you fail to heal him it could destroy the work which was in its first few months.  I assured him that I had felt the spirit and that I knew the man would be healed.  He refused to let me give him a blessing so the young man stopped taking the discussions and told all his friends that we were hypocrites.

Later during district prayer another elder would slap me on the head when I would pray and say "do you feel the Spirit Elder."  As I reflect back on the experience I still feel certain that had I been able to lay hands on the young man that several others would have been brought in to the church and kingdom.  At the time I complied with my district leader because I have always been taught particularly as a missionary that we need to be obedient to our leaders.  As a junior companion I needed to obey both my senior companion and my district leader.

I have thought about this in terms of personal revelation that we can only gain it for ourselves and for our stewardship.  My stewardship involved teaching the young man but being a junior companion I had to do what I was told by those in authority above me.  Later in my mission when I was transferred to a different field with a different mission president who was more in to spiritual things my earlier experience gave me enough confidence that I was able to bless a terminally ill member that was told she would never leave the hospital and through the spirit blessed her to go home and take care of unfinished business.  This allowed her a few extra months of life to finish up arranging for her two daughters welfare.  Later in my life when one of my daughters was born with the cord wrapped twice around her neck I was able to raise her literally from the dead.  Lucky for me I didn't have someone to ask about whether I should do it in the case of my daughter.

I imagine that there are others out there with similar experiences who have been counseled to not do something even when the Spirit told them to do it.


Genevieve said...

For me there were two things on my mission that really shaped my concept of obedience. The first thing was an experience that I had with a disobedient companion. This companion almost never woke up on time and was always "sick" in the mornings. We spent most days inside except when we went to see this one investigator that she really liked, in which case we would stay at her house for sometimes up to 5 hours then on the way home she would remember something she needed and make sure we stoped by a store and spent another hour there instead of proselyting. This really bugged me. In response, it became easier for me than at anytime in my mission to wake up, to exercise (I would run the stairs of our apartment), and follow the morning schedule. I was fueled by "righteous indignation". When interviews came around I shared with my mission president how I felt about the whole thing. His response was not what I expected (although I don't really know what I expected) He told me that my relationship with my companion was more important than being obedient. I stewed on that for the rest of the transfer. I really started to question why obedience was important. I had always heard that you had to be 100% obedient to feel the spirit and have success as a missionary but something strange happened in that transfer. We had 6 baptisms, people just called us up and said they wanted to be baptized, or their fiancee or sister or wife wanted to be baptized. The investigator that we spent all those hours with got baptized. I was miserable alot, but in being miserable I finally received a confirmation that I was suppose to be on a mission (something I hadn't been sure of) and I also recieved alot of confirmation that my life up until that point had been directed by God and I had had specific experiences for particular reasons that helped me be able to explain the gospel to certain people in a way I wouldn't have been able to, and I could tell my companion was feeling the spirit at times what was the deal with obedience...why could we be blessed when we were the most dis-obedient companionship I had been in?

Genevieve said...

Two things became apparant to me. The first thing was that relationships need obedience in order for there to be trust. My companion and I could never truly love eachother, despite the success we had, without obedience. I never felt completly comfortable with her, because she felt guilty. Also I couldn't trust her authority on making calls to drop investigators to spend 5 hours with the one because I didn't know if her intentions were self-serving or for the greater good. That's the power of common rules and expectations in relationships, they allow you to have one mind and one heart because you know what to expect from yourself and the other and it gives you proof of one another's intentions of working towards the good of the whole, not just the good of the self. Secondly, in reflecting on this experience and studing the question WHY is obedience important I learned something that changed my life. Obedience is impossible, and unnecessary; yet you only will know this by actually trying to be 100% obedient. The truth is that really nothing we do qualifies us for the spirit, or perfects us. The only thing that has the power for the important blessings that we seek from obedience is the atonement. However, it is impossible to truly understand our reliance and the magnitude of our weakness on the atonement unless we try to be perfect. I had no idea how much I needed a Savior until I tried to obey the commandments with my whole heart and realized with my own power I could never do it. So in this was obedience produces faith. You are only ready to disregard the "letter" and live by the "spirit" when you have sufficiently changed from trying to live the letter, then you really can understand why Nephi could kill Laban. This is very abstract and only useful if the spirit teaches you this lesson, it otherwise is Satan's greatest tool of justification of why the letter doesn't apply to me.