This last week I was trained as a counselor for a youth summer camp called "Especially For Youth," or efy. I attended efy several times as a participant and always planned to be a counselor someday, so this was really a dream come true for me. Now that training is over, my life for the next five weeks will be dedicated to helping young men and young women ages 14-18 learn about the Savior, learn how to study the scriptures, and prepare to serve missions and live true to the Gospel.
I'm sure I'll have lots of efy experiences to write about in a few more weeks once I've had a chance to be a real counselor instead of just a counselor in training (or a "shadow counselor," as they liked to call us--I usually referred to myself as one of the shadow people), but today I'd like to write about something wonderful that happened this week that actually doesn't have anything to do with efy.
Every Thursday night at efy the main speaker of the session, called the session director, gives a fireside on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I remember these firesides being major building blocks to my testimony when I was a kid--Brother Gardner in 2006 spoke beautifully about the pain that the Savior suffered and the love that His suffering shows us, and I felt the Spirit strongly while listening to him speak. Because of these past experiences, I was expecting a spiritual experience that had to do with the atonement during this Thursday's fireside.
The session director, Brother Merril, talked about Peter walking on water and being rescued by the Savior after he let his focus wander and fell. He compared our lives to Peter's walk, how we are sometimes faithful and sometimes doubting, but that the Savior is always there to save us. He used a beautiful painting of the scene as a big part of his message, and invited the youth (and the counselors) to think about various parts of the picture; first he drew our attention to Peter's face as he fell into the water, then to the Savior's as He reached to grab Peter’s hand, and finally to the Savior's hands clasped firmly around Peter's.
This Thursday, it wasn't Peter's face that caught my attention; his fear as he looked into the surging deep rings true to me, for it is how I feel about life without the Savior, but that wasn't what most drew me. It also wasn't Christ's face, with His look of confidence, compassion, and love that attracted my gaze. Instead, what most captured my attention were Christ's hands.
As I looked at Christ's hands firmly clasping Peter's, I glanced down at my scriptures in my lap. Clipped to the front cover of my triple combination there is a little black name badge that says, in plain, simple letters, "Elder Ray." Below that it reads, "La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días." As I looked at this name badge that for two years I wore over my heart, I realized more strongly than I ever have before how much I miss being Christ's hands.
For two years, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints, I lived without worrying about myself. I dedicated all my time and energy to blessing other people’s lives. I studied, worked, memorized, learned, practice, and trained so that I would be able to speak the words that Christ would speak if He were there in my place. It was without a doubt the hardest experience of my life; it stretched me and challenged me in ways I never expected. It was also the most wonderfully fantastic experience of my life to date, in which I experienced not only pain and sorrow, but also love and joy beyond what I had ever before thought possible.
And so I sat in that crowded auditorium surrounded by crying youth, and I cried with them. I cried out of sadness that I am no longer a missionary, that my name badge has to be clipped onto my scriptures instead of over my heart where I still feel it belongs, and I cried out of gratitude that Christ ever loved and trusted me enough to make me His hands.
I’m quite clear on what my job is next, on what God was trying to telling me Thursday night. My mission was a fabulous, unforgettable experience, but missions only last two years (or eighteen months) for a reason. God wants me here now. He has other plans for me, other works for me to accomplish, other loves, joys, and sorrows He wants me to feel. But He doesn’t ever want me to forget that He made His hands. He gave me a mission call to the Chile, Viña del Mar mission that lasted two years, but long before that He had already given me a lifelong call to discipleship. Years before I became used to wearing His name on a badge over my heart, He had already asked me to take His name upon me.
But I’m ready. I’m willing. I want to make my hands His, whenever and wherever He needs me, be it during the next few weeks as an efy counselor or serving as a home teacher 50 years down the road.