Good morning Brothers and Sisters. My name is Cade Stafford for any of you that don’t know me. I have just recently graduated from high school and have been called to serve in the New York, New York North Mission, which includes the northern part of New York City, Manhattan, the Bronx, Harlem, Westchester County, and much of the surrounding area in cities such as White Plains, Scarsdale, West Point Military Academy, and Sleepy Hollow.
After getting my call, I was slightly disappointed I wasn’t able to go to a foreign country, but that disappointment was short lived as it didn’t take me long to realize that this is the best mission in the world. I will be able to experience so many countless numbers of cultures, races, languages, and personalities, that it will be just like going to a foreign country! I’ll be able to experience new things each and every day!
The New York area is one of great historical significance to not only the Church, but also our country. This mission, although much more broad at first, including most of the Eastern States, was founded in 1839 as the second formal mission of the Church.
The reason that I am going on a mission is because I know that what I will be sharing with the people of New York is true. I am not going to sightsee, or to shop, or to spend lots of money to wake up at 6:30 in the morning to walk around for 10 hours and get doors slammed in my face. The reason that I am going on a mission is because I know that what I have to share with these people can change their lives. The peace and happiness that comes from the Gospel is something that needs to be shared with everyone, and I truly believe that.
One of the principles that I will be teaching on my mission regards THE most significant event in the history of the world: none other than the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Before this world was organized, our Father in Heaven chose our oldest brother, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior and Redeemer. This sacrifice by both Father and Son has made it possible for us to overcome the obstacles given to mankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Every human being that has lived, is living, or will live, will suffer physical death. When speaking to Adam and Eve, the Lord said, “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Jesus Christ overcame the bonds of physical death for us through the Resurrection. On that fateful day on Golgotha, He suffered on the cross and died. His spirit was separated from his body which was then buried in a nearby sepulcher. After three days, his spirit and his body were reunited forever, never to be separated again. This reuniting is called resurrection and this gift is promised to every one of us, whether we do good or evil. This resurrection makes it possible to return to God’s presence, but not to live in His presence.
To live in God’s presence, one must also be clean spiritually. God sent His Son to not only overcome physical death, but also the obstacles of sin. Because of Christ’s Atonement for us, and through His grace and mercy, we are able to become clean so that we can return to live with our Heavenly Father.
In a quote by M. Russell Ballard during his April 2004 General Conference address, he talks about his feelings on Christ’s Atonement after a recent tragedy in his family. He says:
“This past January our family suffered the tragic loss of our grandson Nathan in an airplane crash. Nathan had served in the Russian-speaking Baltic Mission. He loved the people and knew it was a privilege to serve the Lord. Three months after I officiated at his eternal marriage to his sweetheart, Jennifer, this accident took his life. Nathan being taken so suddenly from our mortal presence has turned each of our hearts and minds to the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. While it is impossible for me to put into words the full meaning of the Atonement of Christ, I pray that I can explain what His Atonement means to me and our family and what it might also mean to you and yours.
The Savior’s precious birth, life, Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering on the cross, burial in Joseph’s tomb, and glorious Resurrection all became a renewed reality for us. The Savior’s Resurrection assures all of us that someday we, too, will follow Him and experience our own resurrection. What peace, what comfort this great gift is which comes through the loving grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Because of Him, we know we can be with Nathan again.
There is no greater expression of love than the heroic Atonement performed by the Son of God. Were it not for the plan of our Heavenly Father, established before the world began, in a very real sense, all mankind—past, present, and future—would have been left without the hope of eternal progression.”
My favorite concept that I will be teaching to people is that of eternal families. Through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, He has fulfilled His Father’s plan to create families that will be together forever. Because of my Savior, I know that Elder Ballard will someday be reunited with his grandson, and that I will someday be reunited with members of my family that have passed on. And I look forward to the day when I can see the relief and happiness on my investigators’ faces when I tell them that they will be able to be with their loved ones again.
We have all made mistakes; some bigger mistakes than others, but mistakes nonetheless. We have all felt guilt. Guilt is something we feel when we have done something that we know is wrong. Guilt has driven many people into the sad thought that they will never be forgiven of something that they have done. This is one of Satan’s most powerful tools. If he can not only get us to sin, but also to decide that forgiveness is an impossible gift, then he has surely won.
I would like to read a quote from President Boyd K Packer’s October 2012 General Conference address. He says:
“Throughout your life there may be times when you have gone places you never should have gone and done things you never should have done. If you will turn away from sin, you will be able, one day, to know the peace that comes from following the pathway of complete repentance.
No matter what our transgressions have been, no matter how much our actions may have hurt others, that guilt can all be wiped out. To me, perhaps the most beautiful phrase in all scripture is when the Lord said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
I personally relate to what President Packer is saying very well. I’ve committed sins in my life before that I thought that I would never be able to be clean of. I have lost hope in myself and felt that I would never be able to turn away and be forgiven of my sins. Hope is not lost brothers and sisters. Through the Atonement of my Savior, I was able to repent, get out of those dark places, and come into the light that I feel when I am living the way that I am supposed to. The peace of finally repenting of a sin completely is an overwhelming feeling that is worth more than any amount of money or any amount of worldly pleasures.
My favorite story of repentance is the one of Alma the Younger as found in the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. In Chapter 27 it reads:
(Verses 8 and 9)
8. Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
9. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
So as you can see, Alma and his friends were not exactly what you would call very righteous people. From what it tells us, the common person might say that these young men were far past the point of no return when it comes to sin. Not only were they being terrible people themselves, but they were trying to get as many people as they could to fall away and join them in their wickedness. However, it tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared unto them and spoke with a voice of thunder, calling them unto repentance saying:
(Verses 15 and 16)
15. And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
16. …And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
And it says that Alma and those that were with him “fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment” and that “the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands”. Alma was then taken to his father where he lay there, unmoving, for two days and two nights. When he finally awoke, he recounted to his father, and everyone present, what had happened.
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
27 I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.
28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
And from then on Alma and his brothers went and taught the people the things of the Gospel, repairing the damage that they had done and repenting of the sins that they had committed. From this powerful story we learn that no one is so far lost that they cannot be saved by the power of the Atonement of Christ. Not only were they able to rise up from the bonds of iniquity, but they were able to go and be some of the greatest missionaries of the scriptures.
I pray that I am also able to use the Atonement to rise up from my bonds of iniquity to become a great missionary, teaching the people of New York of the peace that the Gospel has to offer them if they are but willing to open their door and let a simple teenager from Idaho preach powerful truths that can eventually lead them back to their Heavenly Father.
Another great missionary of the scriptures, Abinadi, who actually converted Alma the Younger’s father, Alma, said to the people of King Noah that “it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved.” Brothers and sisters, I concur with what Abinadi says. It really does not matter what we have to do to be saved, because being able to look our Father in Heaven in the eye to tell him that we have done what he has asked us to do will be worth it.
Although what that entails may not include going to the land of your enemies to call them to repentance, only to be burned at the stake as Abinadi was called to do, he may still ask us to do something hard. However, we need to do what Nephi did when he said to his father, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
Our Heavenly Father knows us each individually more than anyone could ever possibly hope to. He knows our weaknesses, our strengths, our joys, and our sadness’s. He would never give us a trial or a sin that we couldn’t overcome. With the help of our Savior and those that really care about us, there is nothing that Satan can do to stand in our way. He may push us down and throw in some cheap shots, but if we but lift a humble hand to our Heavenly Father, in sincere repentance, he will send the arms of His servants to lift us up.
In the second verse of my favorite hymn, it says:
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
These words are my source of comfort when I need it most. When I sing this beautiful song in my head, nothing else can enter, and I can feel the Spirit much easier. Each and every one of us need our Father in Heaven with us every moment of every day, because when don’t, we must go through the anguish and sorrow that Alma the younger felt and the loneliness that Jesus Christ felt when he had to hang on the cross without His father there to comfort Him.
I’d like to close by thanking everyone that has helped me over the past 18 years to get to this point. The list is extremely long because there are just so many people that are willing to give up their time to help me and all of the other young people in this ward. I’d first like to thank Bishop Jensen. He has not only been an amazing leader for me in my Priest’s quorum and ward in general, but also a friend and someone I can turn to when I need help. Next is Brother Butler for putting up with me for four years in his seminary class, not only teaching me the things of the Gospel, but giving me a love for the Gospel as well. All of my leaders and teachers that have prepared me for this mission, I couldn’t have done it without you. My best friend, for coming from quite a ways away to be here today to support me. And last, but not least, my parents, grandparents, and extended family, for being the greatest people I could ever ask for. There is a reason I chose to come to this family. They have been the support that I’ve needed, and the foundation I’ve been able to base my testimony on.
I would like to bear my testimony, now, that I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and that His Atonement provides the ladder that allows me to climb out of the treacherous pits of sin that are ever so present in this wicked world. Through repentance and the power of the Atonement, we can clean ourselves of the many sins that we commit, and eventually become like our Father in Heaven. He wanted so much for us to return to live with Him, that he sent His Son to suffer and die for us, and He would have done it even if it had meant saving just one of us. That kind of love can never be fully repaid, but I want to live my life each and every day so that I can pay my part of the debt, so that Christ can pay the rest of it.
I’d also like to bear my testimony that I know that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the words of our modern-day prophets are the words of God. Heavenly Father has a mission for each of us. My mission involves two years in the great state of New York, and I know that I was given that calling by revelation from God to His prophets. Thomas S. Monson is our prophet today and there is nothing that will shake my testimony that he, his counselors, and all other prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church are called of God. I know that we can all receive our own personal revelation today, if we but listen to the Spirit and recognize it when it is there. Brothers and sisters, friends and family, this is the true Church. I know that the Spirit is here today, and I believe that many of you have felt that what I have said is true. I close my testimony and everything that I have said today in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.