‘Keep focused:’ Elder Soares’ message to two missions in two weeks
Visits with missionaries in Portugal and France included strong messages to stay focused and ‘rejoice together’ in the calling to testify of the Savior
LYON, France — Nearing the end of an 11-day ministry trip, Elder Ulisses Soares spoke with missionaries in the France Lyon Mission on Saturday morning, Sept. 17, encouraging them to “keep focused on what your purpose as missionaries.”
That message was also a part of his remarks to missionaries of the Portugal Lisbon Mission 10 days prior. “Discouragement may come from distraction,” he said in Lisbon. “So eliminate whatever causes you distraction.”
Elder Soares, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, presided at meetings in Portugal last weekend and France this weekend with a trip to the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan, in between. The busy ministry assignment was not without its challenges — some of which he shared with the missionaries in Lyon on Saturday morning.
He told them of the canceled flights, lost luggage, a strike in one of the airports and adjusted itineraries which he and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, experienced. Among other inconveniences, an in-person meeting in Porto, Portugal, where the Soareses served as mission leaders two decades ago, had to be changed to a meeting via Zoom, instead. They had come across the North American continent and the Atlantic Ocean to Portugal, only to be diverted from their destination at the last minute. They were so close, but remained far away.
Though emotional about the perceived loss of an opportunity he had waited a long time to have since being called as an Apostle, Elder Soares told the missionaries to remember that “the Lord knows the beginning from the end, and He is in control.”
He said Heavenly Father blessed him and Sister Soares to feel as though they were present with the Saints in Porto, even though they were speaking through a camera.
In Lisbon and Lyon Elder Soares told the missionaries he felt that the words in Doctrine and Covenants 50:22 had come true in the time they shared together in each meeting.
“Rejoice together — I think all of us, our hearts touched each other,” he said to the missionaries in Lyon, “despite all our different accents.”
Elder Soares said that while serving, missionaries can have experiences where they see how Heavenly Father has guided individuals, through the Holy Ghost, to His Restored Church.
“Elders and Sisters, don’t let the lessons you learn on the mission go away,” Elder Soares said.
As an example from his own life, Elder Soares shared with the missionaries in Lyon that his own mission was where he learned to pray more fervently and listen to the direction of the Lord through the Spirit.
“In the mission field, I learned how to talk more openly with my Heavenly Father. I learned how to receive answers and how to be guided by the Spirit. I learned how to rely on the Savior and His Atoning sacrifice.”
Outside of building his testimony of the Godhead, Elder Soares also said the mission helped him better learn how to interact with others.
“I learned how to love people, how to have an open heart for them, and how to not discriminate against anybody for any reason, but to understand and have more empathy for their challenges and offer my arms to embrace them and help them to feel the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Those characteristics have proven important in all circumstances of his life and have blessed him in his service in the Lord’s kingdom, Elder Soares.
“It’s hard to imagine where you’re going to be in five, 10, 20 or 40 years from now,” he said. “I would never, never, a big never, have imagined that I would be in front of you on this day in this beautiful part of the world testifying of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Maintaining his message on focus, Elder Soares concluded his remarks in Lyon promising blessings to the missionaries.
“As you keep your hearts connected to the Savior, He will bless and help you to accomplish great things in your life,” he said.
Measuring success eternally
While speaking in Lisbon, Elder Soares shared a perspective on success that spans generations.
Portugal Lisbon Mission President Ronald Barcellos is the grandson of Elder Soares’ bishop when he was a boy. Sister Karin Barcellos’ grandfather was the first stake president in all of South America, Elder Soares said.
In sharing that look backward in time, Elder Soares then told the missionaries that mission presidents and their wives are “called to prepare spiritual leaders for the future.”
Specifically, he told them that during this time as missionaries that “you and I are sharing this marvelous privilege” to testify of the Savior Jesus Christ and His divine mission to the world. And he told them that being a witness of the Savior is a lifelong process.
As missionaries share their testimonies, Elder Soares said, “many people change their eternities. The nature of your calling is to change lives.”
And even if all the studying and planning and setting of goals and teaching doesn’t always turn out the way missionaries hope, Elder Soares said, “One acceptance makes up for all the rejection.”
With an eternal perspective, the work and faith each individual contributes during this life is a demonstration of hope, Elder Soares said.
Over the past two years, this hope in the face of adversity has been personal to Elder and Sister Soares as they have mourned the losses of five family members.
“Our faith is in the plan of salvation and the hope we have in it,” he said. “I have hope to see them in the future if I continue faithful in the covenant path here on earth.”
Sister Soares encouraged the missionaries in Lisbon to evaluate themselves in their roles as disciples of Christ.
“Only the Lord knows our level of effort,” she told the missionaries.
She shared with both missions the story of a time as a young missionary when she and her companion thought their mission lessons were going well with a family, only to learn that the family had no real interest in what they were being taught.
Though deflated in the moment, a man who hadn’t been in the room but had been listening from elsewhere in the home, emerged and said he wanted to continue learning and to be baptized.
Diverging and converging paths
Present in both Lisbon and Lyon, Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, didn’t make the trip to Kazakhstan. He traveled to Rome, Italy, to announce a $32 million donation from the Church to the World Food Programme.
Bishop Budge told the missionaries in Lyon that it had been “humbling to do that on behalf of the Saints.”
Bishop Budge then talked about the importance of maintaining humility throughout life to allow the Savior’s light to shine through each missionary.
After reading verses from 3 Nephi 18 with the missionaries, Bishop Budge said, “We have to let His light shine through us because we do not have prints in our hands or a wound in our side.”
He told the missionaries to remember any light they shine comes from the Savior and that to maintain that light, their focus in both time and attention must remain on Him.
Preparation and observation
Missionaries from both missions had some advance notice of Elder Soares’ visit. This allowed them time to prepare and become ready to receive answers to their own questions as they listened to him speak.
Sister Anni Hall of Chandler, Arizona, is serving in the same area as the Lyon stake center, where the meeting with Elder Soares was held. She felt answers to her prayers about how to move forward with power.
“I want to try to do everything that I can to have experiences that help grow my faith in [Jesus Christ], so I can have more power and authority,” she said.
That increased faith and understanding, Sister Hall said, will help her “become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.”
In Lisbon, Elder Justus Jorgensen of Manti, Utah, prepared for Elder Soares’ devotional by helping a group of missionaries arrange a special musical number for the event.
The group of missionaries performed a medley of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul.”
For Elder Jorgensen, arranging the musical number helped him refocus for the final transfer of his mission.
“I received some really solid promptings on where I need to be going after the mission,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve been able to live in the moment here in this last transfer more than I have my entire mission.”
Sister Lucy Collins from San Francisco, California, is just past the half-way point in her mission. She said she prayed before the mission conference looking to know what she could improve on as a missionary. She said she felt her prayers were answered as she listened to each of the speakers with one part standing out to her.
“Elder Soares talked about how making plans and goals is an eternal principle,” she said. “I wasn’t very good at making goals before the mission, and it’s something I’ve been learning how to do.”
Based on what Elder Soares taught, Sister Collins says she has “more motivation and knowledge” to continue setting and working on her goals.
Elder Jorgensen felt strongly about the goal-setting part of Elder Soares’ message as well. As a 24-year-old, he “had some life before the mission,” he said.
“And I know what I’m going back to, and it’s not easy — especially in terms of growing spiritually.”
He said he will be setting goals to help him continue to grow and have positive spiritual momentum after the mission.
In Lyon, Elder Dillon Cheney from Rexburg, Idaho felt impressed to focus on gratitude regardless of the situation he finds himself in. One thing he said he knows will help him avoid discouraging thoughts is the reassurance of Heavenly Father’s love.
“I have a loving Heavenly Father who is always there for me,” he said. That testimony is helping Elder Cheney “speak with more power and authority,” he said.
Living the gospel daily
In Lisbon, Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy taught the missionaries to put in the work of daily preparation for their service.
“So goes your morning, so goes your day,” he told the missionaries.
He asked them how the Lord would put words in their mouths to say what needed to be said if they hadn’t put in the effort to study and ponder. Those who the missionaries meet will have many questions about life and the Savior, he said. And they are confronted daily with news that can create fear.
“His gospel is the only answer for fear,” Elder Cook said.
Sister Lynette Cook counseled the missionaries to not be stuck in the past or too concerned with the future that they neglect to be in their present as missionaries.
“There are so many things we can be worried about,” she said. “But when we live in the present, we feel God’s Spirit, and he’s there to bless us.”
In Lyon, Elder Massimo De Feo, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s new Europe Central Area, added that daily repentance is also integral.
“In order to have light, you have to repent, so that as you refine your soul every single day, then the light of the Lord in you will reflect your change,” he said.
It is not always about knowing what a missionary can “do” to be better, Elder De Feo said. Sometimes the better question to be asked is, “What more can I become?”
Sister Loredana De Feo, who first learned of the Church at age 12, said, “Do not be distracted by age, appearance, or any human thoughts,” when meeting someone for the first time.
“You do not know what the Lord has in store for them. … Be guided by the Spirit.”