Elder Benson - South Africa Jo-Berg Mission

Elder Benson - South Africa Jo-Berg Mission

Monday, October 16, 2017

Don't Let Me Go

"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith..." (2 Timothy 4:6-7)


I'm being haunted by myself.

I wrote a song earlier this year relating to my experience as a missionary.  It's no masterpiece by any means, but it conveys a lot of what a missionary may feel in their missionary service.  I wrote the last verse and chorus long before the end of my mission, but I'm getting the shivers at the thought of its fulfillment.

Here's the song (last verse and chorus underlined): 
Don't Let Me Go

There's a place out there that's meant for me.
I got an envelope in the mail,
Just can't wait to see
Where I'm going. Excitement is growing.

Packing up my suitcase, Saying goodbye
To the world I know and the family I love.
I just might cry,
But I know where I'm going.

Oh, just let me go!
There's a whole new world that I need to know.
Please, don't let me stay.
I'll be back again someday
When I'm coming home.

I hope that they don't see it on my face.
It's a different world and I just feel so out of place.
My energy's thinned.
This day's just ruined.

I look at a picture of my Mom and Dad.
I get on my knees and say a prayer; I feel so bad
And I feel so ashamed.
But there's promises I've made.

Oh, don't let me go!
There's a work out here that I still need to know.
Please, just let me stay.
I'll get better every day
Before I go home.

Packing up my suitcase; time to go.
Each month has flown and I feel I've grown.
The race is won;
My mission is done.

I'm sitting in a jet plane flying high,
But I feel so low as I climb up in the sky.
Tears are streaming
Because I'm leaving.

Oh, don't let me go!
There's so many people that I've loved and I've known
Please, please let me stay!
I'll be back again someday
But I'm going home.

In the past few days I've been repeatedly asking myself 'Am I already done?  Am I really going home this week?'.  It's a nice thought reuniting with the family and friends, enjoying snow, and saving the shirt and tie for Sundays.  Yet, at the same time, it's a terrible feeling to imagine a world without my family and friends in Africa; without pop and chicken; without Zulu, Tswana, siSwathi, etc; without the scorching African sun; and without the absolute honor of serving my Savior full-time.

It's a fact that I'm leaving a home to return home.  I won't be able to repay my Lord Jesus Christ for this sacred and special opportunity to serve the people of South Africa.  In these 24 months I feel that I've grown and developed into something more through His abounding grace.

Like the second verse of Don't Let Me Go describes, there were tough times.  Intestinal parasites, multiple robberies, deaths of loved friends; all of these have been ninety degree curveballs that I've swung at and have missed.  Luckily for me and for us all, there's no such thing as striking out in the gospel.  It's not so much about how many times we fall, but how many times we get back up.  Here are some of my favorite words from President Uchtdorf that have given me much encouragement that I hope will bless you in some way:
"It’s human nature to stumble, fail, and sometimes want to drop out of the race. But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we have committed not only to begin the race but also to finish it—and finish it with our torch still burning brightly. The Savior promised His disciples, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

"Sometimes after stumbling, failing, or even giving up, we get discouraged and believe our light has gone out and our race is lost. But I testify that the Light of Christ cannot be extinguished. It shines in the darkest night and will relight our hearts if only we incline our hearts to Him (see 1 Kings 8:58).

"No matter how often or how far we fall, the Light of Christ ever burns brightly. And even in the deepest night, if we but step toward Him, His light will consume the shadows and reignite our souls.

"This race of discipleship is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And it makes little difference how fast we go. In fact, the only way we can lose the race is by finally giving in or giving up.

"As long as we continue to rise up and move toward our Savior, we win the race with our torches burning brightly."

I express my immense gratitude to those who have continually encouraged me to finish my mission despite the curveballs, to those who have written online and in letter, to those who are fellow servants in Christ, to my God and my Savior.  Your love and your support have been invaluable and I am eternally in your debt.

I'll likely write a final post next week after my homecoming talk and jam session.  I wish to see all of you there as you are able to attend (more info to come).  I'm excited to reunite with you and to catch up.  May the Lord bless you all!

Ngiyakuthanda kakhulu!!!


Monday, October 9, 2017

The Parable of the Flight

I've received a lot of hysterical feedback on last week's article, "I Crossed Paths With An African Chief." I'm glad so many of you are enjoying my past as I have. What I find to be just as hysterical is the fact that I'm going to be boarding a plane home in nine days. I can testify of all RM's ever: missions goes by quicker than you could ever imagine!

As I wrote last week's article, I realized that the process of taking a plane flight is a lot like a mission.

Here ye, therefore, the parable of the flight:  

Before the actual flight, physical and mental preparations are made by the passengers in anticipation of the trip. After arriving at the airport, baggage is inspected at security checkpoints and flight itinerary is checked. From there, the trip to the terminal can be frenzied and rapid (as so many of us can attest to) in worry that the flight could be missed. Upon arriving at the terminal, the passengers are finally permitted to board the plane. Soon enough, carry-on baggage is safely secured in the overhead compartments, seat-belts are fastened, and the plane approaches the runway.

The take-off is rapid and quick, the ascension to cruising altitude is exciting. All passengers on the plane have a similar destination in mind, but the flight is different for every passenger as the plane reaches cruising altitude. The airline ensure that the best pilots and air hostesses provide their passengers with the best experience possible. All are provided with complementary food and drink, though the option to purchase additional sustenance is readily available. Passengers have either purchased to sit in first class while others have chosen economy. Some passengers entertain themselves with the in-flight entertainment. Others (attempt to) sleep while others carry on working on their laptops and phones.

Eventually, the pilot announces the commencement of the final ascent, and all return to their seats, buckle up, and get ready to land. As the plane floats down into the clouds, all passengers eagerly look out of their windows to behold their long-awaited destination. The plane soon crawls out from the condensation and the sight of land is once again seen. The plane slows its speed, approaches the runway, and gracefully glides onto the concrete.

After the plane docks, all passengers quickly unbuckle their seat belts and reach for their carry-on baggage and file out of the plane in an energetic shuffle to dive into the world awaiting them outside of the confides of the plane.

Now, as you read through Elder Benson's quick analysis of the process, I hope you missionaries/RM's were able to pick up on a few parallels between a flight and a mission. For those who have yet to embark in such a work, here's what Elder Benson could offer (I'll avoid the pre-mission goodies and jump straight into what I desire for you to take away):

The MTC is rapid and quick, and the missionary soon arrives in their destined mission. All missionaries on mission have a similar destination in mind, but each mission is different for everyone. The Lord ensures that the best Mission President and wife are provided to give their missionaries the best experience possible. The Church provides many booklets such as 'Preach My Gospel','Adjusting to Missionary Life', and 'The First Twelve Weeks' (all of which have proven to be life-savers).Yet, even with all resources available, the missionary ultimately decides if they will make the most of their mission. They have the option to invite others to come unto Christ, or to 'sleep through' their mission, trying their best to cruise through their time in the mission field. They have the choice to change their behavior for the space of a few years, or to transform their nature for a lifetime.

Eventually, the final ascent of the mission arrives and the missionaries board a plane home. They take their seats, buckle up, and take off in the plane for the final time. As the plane floats down into the clouds, all missionaries eagerly look out of their windows to behold their long-awaited home. The plane soon crawls out from the condensation and the sight of land is once again seen. The plane slows its speed, approaches the runway, and gracefully glides onto the concrete.

After the plane docks, all missionaries quickly unbuckle their seat belts and reach for their carry-on baggage and file out of the plane in an energetic shuffle to dive into the world awaiting them outside of the confides of the plane. They finally embrace their families and loved ones, get released by their Stake President from full-time missionary service, and take off their name badge.

I suspect that the experience of taking off the name badge is most painful part of missionary service. It can be painful because the missionary is full of regret of wasting their time as a proselyting missionary, or it can be painful because the missionary truly consecrated their time as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that each of you who embark in the service of God as a missionary will take this blessed opportunity to consecrate your short time as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ in the service of your God and your fellow men, which will inevitably transform your nature.

My grandmother served as a mission president's wife a decade ago, and she sent me a most wonderful letter that I thought would really round off this parable of a missionary trek.

"The mission is the beginning of a lifelong upward trajectory of becoming better, finer, more mature. Now that you know how to find truth you're so much better prepared to find your future through the divinely guided, clear, most direct path to success and happiness. I think it's always a bit of a shock to come back into what is sometimes called the "real world".  Just remember, you're in the real world now. What a privilege to be able to serve the Lord full time. That is as real as it gets. The worldly world dims by comparison. But it's still a beautiful world and you're destined to have a beautiful life--made all the better by having honorably served a beautiful mission." -Elaine Benson

Photo with the Roodeport Zone.  Seven countries represented in this zone alone. #funfact #onlyfivefromUtah

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Crossed Paths With An African Chief

I can't believe it!  It's only two weeks until my two years are done!  Time truly flies when you're having fun.  With these two years drawing at a close, I feel it appropriate to give honor the man who gave me my first real glimpse into Africa.

After a short flight from Utah to Atlanta, Georgia, my fellow servants of God and I boarded the plane that would take us to our new African home.  We were all incredibly excited to begin our missionary service in Johannesburg.  I was no less excited than my brethren, especially when I discovered that sitting directly behind me was a large African man arrayed in fiery orange robes stretching down to his ankles, with a matching kufi hat perched atop his head.  I beheld this peculiar sight, but nonetheless continued to place my suitcase in the overhead compartment.

After a short wait, the plane rumbled onto the runway and quickly increased in speed until its wheels lifted of the ground, taking us towards African skies.  We soon reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the pilot turned of the 'Fasten Seat Belt' sign, and the air hostesses began to cheerfully assist the airline patrons to whatever they were in need of.

These hostesses swept through the isles, dishing out peanuts and drinks as normal until they had passed my row.  As I began to open my package of peanuts, I heard the deep voice of the robed chieftain thunder to the hostess, " I... Want.... Hot Water."  Being the naive boy I was, found it hysterical that the stereotypical African and I had finally crossed paths.  Throughout the seventeen hour flight, this chief entertained me as he continued to proclaim hot water to be his beverage of choice.  I don't think there could have been a better man to give me a proper welcoming to the people of which I would be serving.

Luckily for me, I have matured since then and have grown to love the rich culture found here in Mzansi.  Though this man was quite different from the people of South Africa, I have grown to love the incorporation of these peoples' unique history and culture into their everyday living.  The pride in which they exhibit towards their ancestral lineage is unmatched.

This past week, South Africa celebrated one of my most favorite holidays: Heritage Day!  Heritage Day is a day in which the people of South Africa celebrate and honor their lineage.  Whether they be Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Swathi, or Sothu, everyone dresses up in their traditional attire and come together to celebrate where they have come from.  Robes, headdresses, crowns, and various beaded ornaments appeared on every street, lighting them up with color and energy.  I only wish I had been able to take more pictures so I could show what true heritage is.

After this day drew to its close, I had a time to reflect on its likeness in our lives.  We all descend from a mixture of backgrounds.  We all were raised to honor different customs and traditions.  To a degree, we all know of a different world.  But should these differences separate us?  Should we not celebrate these differences?  Can they not unite us?

In the scriptures, Zion is described as those 'of one heart and of one mind. (Moses 7:18)'  Their source of strength was in their unity.  I know that it is achievable in the world we live in.  We, as the people of Earth, may understand God differently and may view the world differently.  But as we put aside the differences, we become united in a greater cause.

Like Moroni in the Book of Mormon, we can stand together as people of different faiths and nationalities and say, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (Alma 46:12).

Monday, September 25, 2017

What a Tree Taught Me

Hello one and all!  I hope this week's post finds you happy and healthy.

This is it.  The last month of my mission.  23 months, 699 days, 16,776 hours, and an infinite amount of memories and experiences later, I've been caught completely unaware that my time in South Africa is ticking to its close.

Calls from my fellow missionaries are filled with wishes to finish strong.  Weekly letters from my mission president are saturated with encouragement to finish on a high note.  Emails from family and friends filled with scriptures, general conference talks, and insights to uplift my spirit in my final days as a missionary.  Promptings from the Spirit that guide me in how I can sprint through the tape.  It seems that I have a solid support system to help me in this final home stretch.

But with all the love I've felt, there's an undeniable force pushing the opposite way.  Lucifer is striving by all means to halt or detour this divine work.  Whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual obstacles, my companion and I have witnessed and felt it all.  We hold dear to the promise that 'all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7)'.  Though we are at times unsure of what good could be coming from some hardships, we continue to work with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength.

As we've continued to labor in the vineyards of South Africa, we've noticed a distinct change in the landscape as we've entered into a new spring season.  What was various shades of yellow and dead is now transforming into a vibrant green, lush with life.  To see signs of life return to this corner of Africa is a relief and a joy.

Much change has sprung forth in the past month, but the past week has brought to us the most pleasant surprise.  As we've driven to and fro, we've noticed slight pockets of violet striking the skyline.  With every day, the speckled patches of purple have invaded the trees in the streets and mountains, adding to the Rainbow Nation of South Africa a happy glow.

The trees that are responsible for this transformation are called the Jacaranda Tree.  Famous for its purple bloom just before the rainy season, the Jacaranda's limbs slither high into the sky, shooting forth beautiful petals, scorching the African sky with beautiful shades of lavender.  Its beauty is awe-inspiring to any visitor or resident of South Africa. 

As we've witnessed these trees beginning to bloom, I've been reminded of the trials and tribulations I face as a missionary and a child of God.  Too often, in times of spiritual drought, I've often wondered to myself why the rains don't come.  I question whether I should continue shouldering on and if I'll benefit from the hardships.  Then I am reminded that, like a Jacaranda Tree springing forth its beautiful petals, I too will bloom, that if i can endure these trials for a small moment, that the rains will come and supply my soul with living waters.

I promise you that God is aware of you.  He knows you perfectly.  He knows when you are due to bloom.  If you trust in His timing, and are patient in the dry seasons of life, you will begin to bloom amidst your persecutions and will be supplied with the living waters of Christ.

"...Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14)

Let us bear with patient the afflictions which are placed upon our shoulders.  It was never easy for Christ, and it will never be easy for us.  Life was never meant to be easy.  The time will come that we will look back at our trials and hardships with gratitude for the lessons which we gained from them and for the trust which we cultivated in Christ Jesus.  We can trust in Him, for He is mighty to save.  In the midst of the hardships of life, don't forget that you're beginning to bloom.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Four Insights for the New/Preparing Missionary

Having my mission come to a close has given me a lot of time to think about the valuable lessons I've learned. Idk if you'll be able to tell from the previous emails, but I love missionary work!!  The lessons I've learned have proven time and time again to be invaluable.  I recently received an email from my cousin who has received his call from the Prophet Thomas S. Monson to serve in Rome, Italy.  In this email, he asked for a few insights on how he could best begin his two years.  Here's a few insights I would share to him and to anyone who desires to begin their missionary service on a consecrated note.

1. First and foremost, pray for the Lord to confirm that the place that you have been called to is where the Lord needs you to be for the next two years.  Missionary service is to be a joyful experience, as it has been for me, yet I've seem too many elders who have struggled with obedience or confidence or other problems, all stemming from the fact that they haven't gained a personal testimony from the Lord in their call.  This testimony to get you through the rough times.  It will increase your joy in the good times.

Remember the words of David A. Bednar: "A missionary is not called to a place; rather, he or she is called to serve...As missionaries strive to be ever more worthy and capable instruments in His hands and do their best to fulfill faithfully their duties, then with His help they “cannot go amiss”—wherever they serve. Perhaps one of the lessons the Savior is teaching us in this revelation is that an assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work. (Called to the Work, April 2017 Conference)"

2. Second, prayerfully set SMART Goals:

Specific - To give you direction
Measurable - To track your progress
Achievable - To fuel your faith
Realistic - To kill your doubt
Time-bound - To keep the pressure

Too many missionaries, fresh from the MTC, set a goal similar to this one: 'I am going to be the best missionary ever!'  It's not specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, or time-bound!  Be SMART in your goals, and they will help you in your focus.  Set long-term goals for your mission, and set short-term goals to help you achieve the long-term.  The simpler the goal is, the more power it has.  I could go on for days about goals but I'd just be boring everyone!  If you master the principles in Chapter 8 of PMG you'll have a solid foundation for becoming a PMG missionary.

3. Third, commit to be exactly obedient to the Missionary Handbook.  Be like the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. "And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.  For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments" (2 Ne 25:24-25).  Anything less than exactly obedient is disobedient.  If you can't cross yourself for the Lord these two years, how do you expect to cross yourself in the eternities ahead?

4. Last, engrain 'Preach My Gospel' into every fiber of your missionary service.  It hasn't been until recently that I discovered that my PMG looks more like a coloring book!  All the notes and quotes from various trainings and meetings that I've written in the margins of my PMG continue to teach me long after I first wrote them.  If you look at 'A Successful Missionary' under PMG Chapter One, all of the bullet points at the bottom of pg 10/top of pg 11 connect to at least one chapter of PMG.  If you master PMG, you master your mission.

I have gained strength in the words of Bruce R. McConkie:  ”I am called of God. My authority is above that of the kings of the earth. By revelation I have been selected as a personal representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my Master and he has chosen me to represent him. To stand in his place, to say and do what he himself would say and do if he personally were ministering to the very people to whom he has sent me. My voice is his voice, and my acts are his acts; my words are his words and my doctrine is his doctrine. My commission is to do what he wants done. To say what he wants said. To be a living modern witness in word and deed of the divinity of his great and marvelous latter-day work.”  I know what is declared here is true.  Striving to stay true to it takes faith and repentance on a daily basis, but overtime it is achievable!  The Lord endows his true servants with power.

You have two years to do it, and an eternity to remember it.  "This time, like all times, is a very good one, if [you] but know what to do with it." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is the work of Jesus Christ.  Nothing shall hinder it.  "Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent... 'til the purposes of God shall be accomplished... (Joseph Smith)"  I add my witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that he was called to restore the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth in these days.  Serve with all you heart, might, mind, and strength.

Elder Benson

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Adventures of Elder Benson and Brumpton

Part One

Rustenburg, or 'Rusty Dusty' as it's called in the SAJM, is located in the Northwest Province, approximately two hours from Johannesburg.  Herein live two missionaries who break the mold of what would be a traditional missionary companionship serving in the outskirts of the mission.  The highlights of their adventures of the past week are summed up as follows:

The elders spent most of their week in preparation for a new companionship joining their ranks in the Northwest village of Phokeng.  From marking investigator's homes in the GPS to saying goodbye to members they loved, they clung tight to the bittersweet moment of saying goodbye.

Part Two

As the elders continued to proselyte in Rustenburg, mission headquarters sent them the address of a foreign exchange student who recently arrived in South Africa from Provo, Utah.  She currently resides in Tsitsing, a village located thirty kilometers outside Rusty Dusty.  Her parents requested that the elders visit her with her host family and supply them with the chapel address.  The missionaries responded to the call and quickly began their journey to Tsitsing (not forgetting to take pictures along the way).

Part Three

The chapel in Rustenburg is among the prettiest in South Africa.  Having been converted from a mosque, this beautiful building has stolen the eyes of many saints around the world.  In the past week, however, the chapel has been broken into twice, leaving to the dynamic duo to patch up holes in the roof, take inventory of lost chairs, and climb in the rafters of the ceiling.

After their energy was spent from a long day at the chapel, the elders were in much need of nourishment.  They gallivanted to Nando's, a popular restaurant in Rustenburg.  They later treated themselves to some township sweets. 

Part Four

For Sunday worship services, the elders attended the Phokeng Branch, who are excited to be receiving their own set of elders this week!  Their services are held in portable units, a common sight for the Church in Africa.

As the worship service ended at the chapel on Sunday, many of the congregation were asked to give service at a local wedding of a relative of a member.  Weddings in South Africa are nothing short of a celebration.  They block of an entire street, put up a massive tent, and proceed to celebrate the couple's union with a live band, dancing, a catered feast, and singing.  Here is a picture of a 'squad' enjoying some of the delicious food.

The food in South Africa is amazing!  Pictured is a dish called 'Seven Colors' representing the seven colors of the South African flag.

Part Five

As the sun set in the West, the cold winter winds sent the elders seeking for shelter.  Luckily, with the help of their friend Mothusi, they found refuge in the home of the Sekete family, who helped them to warm up with a blanket and some herbal tea.

Overcome with gratitude, the elders shared with them a spiritual thought relating to missionary work.  The entire Sekete family joined in on the missionary fever and committed to reach out to a number of their friends, as shown in the picture.

Part Six

From visiting the humble saints to serving the extraordinary people, this companionship is savoring every moment they can in this special corner of South Africa.

L-O-V-E you all!! #sixweeksleft

Elder Benson