Good morning brothers and sisters. I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to speak to you today. If you are not aware of who I am, my name is Devin Soper. I’ve been at BYU this last semester, but I have grown up in this ward and it feels like home. I have received a mission call to serve in the Baton Rouge Louisiana Mission. I have always heard that we are sent to certain places for a reason. Maybe I need to gain weight or something, because I have heard the food is really good. I am just kidding though, I know that there are people there that are ready to hear the gospel and I have the opportunity to bring it to them.
I would like to take this time to thank all of the young men leaders, bishops, friends and family members that have helped me to prepare and get me to this point in my life. I am so grateful for your positive influence in my life and I hope that I can emulate your examples on my mission and throughout my life.
To start off my talk, I would like to share a few experiences and thoughts that I’ve had as I’ve prepared my mission and grown in my testimony over the last couple years.
To begin, let me take you back to my childhood. When I was a chubby little kid, I dreamed about being an amazing athlete someday. Even though I was a pretty uncoordinated, I would run around the neighborhood pretending to be a pro ninja or an amazing basketball player… or maybe a basketball player who just also happened to be really good at karate. In my mind I was already a professional athlete.
In junior high, reality started to catch up with my fantasies and I noticed that I wasn’t quite keeping pace with some of the other kids in sports. I still imagined that somehow, someday, I would eventually hit my stride and be that great sports star I always dreamed about. In high school I joined the track and cross-country teams, thinking that maybe that would be my thing. And I actually did end up becoming the second on the team…perhaps I should clarify, I was second to last on the team. But it was a brutal awakening to go to some of the first practices and races. It seemed like I was putting out the same effort as my peers, but the results were more than underwhelming.
I eventually came to the realization that a combination of factors, including naturally awkward sports genetics (thanks dad)… and a case of asthma, would prevent me from ever fulfilling that childhood fantasy. One especially low moment of truth came when I had an asthma attack while I was running in a track meet at Timpanogos high school. I actually collapsed on the track in front of a stadium full of parents and school peers. Not exactly the glorious moment you want to remember from high school. Looking back, I think maybe I could have pretended that I did it on purpose by incorporating a few dramatic ninja moves during my fall. (pretend to think about ninja moves)
As you can imagine, I decided not to continue with these sports. Initially I didn’t learn a lot from this experience; I quit out of frustration. It was hard for me to accept that something I wanted so bad would never really get to happen. But it wasn’t until I read a couple scriptures that helped me understand why I might have had this challenge. For example, in Ether 12:27 and 28,
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their aweakness. I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.
28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that afaith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all brighteousness.
I took comfort, for example, in reading that weaknesses are given to us to make us humble. I am not saying that my challenges have made me completely humble, but they did encourage me to shift attitude about what I wanted to achieve in life. Maybe instead of being a great athlete, there were other things that Heavenly Father wanted me to focus my energies on.
To expand on this idea, when I read the line “weak things become strong unto them.” I realized that he might not replace my weakness as an athlete with some great athletic ability. Instead I might turn my energy to developing spiritual gifts that might bless other people. That is what I am trying to work on right now, and I am still far from achieving it. But through this process I am being blessed in many other ways. For example in letting go of those ambitions I was able to build some important friendships and family relationships. It has also helped focus on developing other talents that I really enjoy. Finally it has turned me towards prayer and scripture and has increased my faith in the gospel.
I’ve also learned a couple of other lessons about how Heavenly Father helps us turn weakness into strengths. First, it takes effort and time for us to develop those abilities or spiritual gifts; They are usually not given to us in one miraculous moment. For example I had an experience this last semester at BYU that taught me this valuable lesson.
The first Sunday I was in my freshman ward, a few of my roommates volunteered to teach Sunday school. Afterwards I mentioned that I would have never done what they did and that I am a really bad teacher. Heavenly Father must have been listening and heard that as an unintentional, subtle cry for help, because the next week I was called as the elder’s quorum instructor for my new ward. As you can imagine, I felt intimidated and overwhelmed. In the days leading up to the first time I taught I got really nervous and had a couple of sleepless nights, worrying about how it would go. But I was so worried that I worked extra hard at studying all of the scriptures and praying for inspiration throughout the week. The combination of putting in a good effort and asking for help from Heavenly Father paid off. Even though I had a positive experience the first time, it was still hard and nerve racking even through the last day I taught. But I survived and even got better at it.
The other lesson that I learned is embedded in that story as well: if we want to accomplish important or righteous things, we don’t have to do it by ourselves. Heavenly Father is willing to help if we take the time to ask.
As I turn my attention towards the next major challenge in my life, being a teacher every day on my mission in Louisiana. I take comfort in all of these lessons that I have learned. Ammon is one of my favorite examples of an effective missionary and it is not because he cut off some guys arms and in some paintings it looks like his biceps are bigger than his head. Instead I admire him because he also emphasizes the importance of being humble and recognizing that God will make weak vessels like us into powerful communicators of gospel truths.
In Alma 26: 12 Ammon says, Yea, I know that I am anothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will bnot boast of myself, but I will cboast of my God, for in his dstrength I can do all ethings; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
My former chunky 7 year old self who was obsessed with ninja basketball, probably would have fixated on Ammon’s sword fighting abilities. But after the challenges that I have faced growing up and the lessons that I have learned through my weaknesses, I aspire to be a spiritually powerful missionary like him. I have a long way to go, but if I try to be obedient, study my scriptures and work hard at being a humble and effective teacher, Heavenly Father will make up the difference. And maybe by doing this I will experience some of the same success and joy in helping others convert themselves to the gospel others to the gospel as Ammon did.
I know that this gospel is true, and I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity I have to go share it with the people of Louisiana. I know that I have a Heavenly Father that loves and cares for me and all of us. I know that my savior lives and loves us. He showed his love for us by atoning for our sins that we might be forgiven. And I am so grateful for this Christmas season where we have the opportunity to reflect on his amazing life. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet of God and he is inspired while he leads this church. I know that Joseph Smith was also a prophet of God and he restored the fullness of the gospel truth to this earth. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and another testament of Christ. I know that the Book of Mormon can bring people closer to our Heavenly father and our Savior. This gospel has blessed me and my family so much. And I hope I can share that same message of happiness to families on my mission. I am so nervous, excited and happy for this opportunity to serve the Lord as best I can. Thank you all, again, for coming. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ amen.