February 2011-August 2012

25 February 2011

Week 1

WOW. Hard to imagine that it's only been a week here at the MTC. I have learned SO much already! THank you so much to everyone who has written & sent me packages this week!!! I can't tell you how loved I've felt from all of you, so thank you thank you thank you!!!

Well, I'll start off at the beginning. I have two companions here. Hermana Ponaveitongo (pronounced Bone-a-vay-tongo, where the "ng" sound is said as in "tongue") is Tongan and from Hawaii. Her family is full-blooded Tongan and very true to their culture, so I'm LOVING learning about those fun things with her. She speaks ENglish, TOngan, Hawaiian Pigeon, Samoan, and now Spanish. It's awesome. SHe is a convert to the church, 3 years ago to the day we entered the MTC. She is the only member in her immediate family, and they have mostly disowned her entirely. Her faith, I have no doubt, can move mountains. She is incredible & adds a wonderful spirit to all our lessons. I love her! My other companion, Hermana Randall, is from Orem, Utah. Her father is not a member, and her mother has been inactive most of her life. Her older brother is on a mission in Tennessee speaking Spanish, and her younger sister will put in her papers about the same time as Tanner. She is a bright young woman who isn't afraid to work hard. Her dedication to the Gospel and her purpose as a missionary is a great example & encourages me to be better. Both of them are delightful & have truly enriched my life in just one short week. They are both serving in California Ventura, which is just to the west of my mission.

We are in small groups called districts, with several districts making up a zone. My district consists of us 3 sisters, and 6 elders... 4 from Utah, 1 from Boise, and 1 from Austin, TX. They are all going to be serving in the Mexico City South mission. They are all definitely 19 years old, but they have their moments when they amaze me. It's especially fun to role play & be taught by them. God is truly qualifying each of us for this calling. I am the only one in the district that has never had any Spanish, but I'm working hard to learn. Whenever I can't think of a word in Spanish though, it always comes to mind in German, which I find especially irritating! Between the German, Arabic, Japanese, & English words all floating around in my head, Spanish is having a hard time finding a place to move in and unpack. Progress is slow. But to think that a week ago I could only say #1-6 in Spanish, and now I'm praying, teaching, and reading--at least partially--in Spanish, truly the Gift of Tongues & Interpretation of Tongues is alive and well in Christ's true church on the earth.

The MTC is proof that God is directing His work on the earth. The Spirit here is incredible. I have so much more to tell you about these things. The fireside on Sunday was a musical fireside. AWESOME. THe devotional on Tuesday was given by Elder and Sister Patrick Kearon of the Seventy. They are incredible. I really wanted to tell you all about what they had to say, but I'll have to write that out by hand and have Erika post it on the blog or pass it on to you somehow. I don't have much time left. Just know that the Spirit is palpable here in every meeting. I LOVE IT!

I thought I was just going to "deal with" the role-playing part of class, but I actually L-O-V-E IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You just can't NOT feel the Spirit when you are bearing testimony of eternal truths. I know that I still have a LONG way to go with my Spanish, but there has never been a single missionary reported to have not learned the language they were assigned to speak. So I know it will come if I keep being obedient!

I love this work and I'm SO excited to be a part of it. I love that my role as a missionary is to invite and assist others to come unto Christ, to make eternal covenants with God, and to endure to the end happily. I feel now more than ever just how happy God wants EVERY son and daughter of His to be. I love you all! The work is true!

Hermana Blackburn

P.S. Please write me on dearelder.com instead of email me from now on... I don't have enough time to read all your emails AND write everything I want. Thanks! Loves loves loves!!!

P.P.S. God is waiting to bless our whole family on my behalf. Pray for those blessings. Expect miracles. And then look for His hand in your life. I promise you it will be there!

13 February 2011

My Farewell Talk

Well, the Lord works by mysterious ways, and I didn't actually end up giving the talk I prepared. But I felt like I should have it posted on my blog, so I guess someone out there needs to read something in it. That person just might be you... I'm just sayin... :) I normally don't write out my talks word for word, but maybe I did with most of this one because it was meant to be read here rather than heard in church.

Sister Dana Blackburn
13 February 2011
Mission Farewell

My life has changed because I gained a testimony.


My life has changed because I gained a testimony of…
Prayer: I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t know what prayer was, how to pray, or that God really does answer my prayers. Because my parents were so diligent in teaching and showing me how to pray, I never doubted the importance of praying to my Heavenly Father. And now, many years and adventures later, I still know where I can always go for answers, guidance, love, comfort, and hope. Through prayer I have built a relationship with my Heavenly Father and I have come to know Him, but maybe more importantly I have learned just how well He knows me.

o I remember very few specific prayers that I’ve said throughout my life, but the feeling of my prayers being answered is something that will always stick with me.
o When I was about 4, my family was enduring one of our infamous cross-country road trips, and my parents decided to make this one a Church History road trip. One of the places we stopped at was the John Jonson farm in Hiram, Ohio. Since most of you probably aren’t quite as nerdy and obsessed with Church History as I am, I’ll remind you that this is where Joseph Smith received many revelations, including Doctrine & Covenants 76. Part of the tour includes the account of Joseph and Sidney Rigdon receiving this vision and their testimonies.
And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of Him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of Him: that He lives! For we saw Him, even on the right hand of God, and we heard the voice bearing record that He is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by Him, and through Him, and of Him the worlds are and were created and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. (D&C 76:22-24)
As a 4 yr. old, this testimony pierced my heart, and I had the greatest desire to see what Joseph and Sidney saw. I asked my mom how I could see the Savior and my Heavenly Father, and she told me to pray and ask if I could see them. Because I had gained a testimony of prayer early on, I had no doubt that what she told me to do was correct. So I decided that if that room was good enough for Joseph to see the Savior in, that it would work for me, too, and I waited for everyone in the tour to move to the next room. I knelt down and I prayed with all the faith and hope of a child to ask Heavenly Father if I could see Him and His Son, so that I, too, could bear a testimony that would help bring others unto Christ.
Now, I’m going to stop here and confess that God did not show Himself unto me that day, nor did His Son, or any angels. I must admit some initial dismay at this, though in jest I’ll blame it on my mom who decided to sneak back in the room with her video camera. There’s nothing like a home video to prevent a heavenly manifestation. But in all seriousness, why did this experience not ruin my testimony of prayer forever? It was because my parents made the effort to teach me about God and His ways.
God didn’t answer my prayer in the way that I was expecting, but through my parents He was able to teach me what I needed to know. I learned that day, and I continue to learn even now, that if I will live my life in accordance with the Gospel and always strive to do God’s will, that not only will I be able to see Him and His Son, but I’ll be able to live with them again one day. I’ve also been able to learn that by doing these things, God can use us to help His children no matter who we are. Now I know that I don’t have to see my Savior in order to testify that He lives, and He does live.
o A few years ago while my father was very ill, I spent a lot of time on my knees with the Lord. I found prayer to be a strength and comfort to me, and I found that the more I talked with God, the more He would talk with me. My father was undergoing a very risky lung surgery to remove the cancer, and I was so worried about what would happen that I was frozen in fear. I felt humbled by circumstance and I turned to my Heavenly Father in prayer. As I pleaded with Him that night for my dad’s life to be preserved and for the surgery to go smoothly, I heard myself say “if it be Thy will.” And as I finished my prayer, I felt the love of my Heavenly Father envelop me and the Spirit whispered “Dana, I know it will be hard, but I need him here now. I have a work for him to do, which no other can. It will be a short time, and then you will be with him forever.” I cannot deny that this answer came from God, because though it was exactly what I didn’t want to hear, I felt at peace and knew that the Lord would be with me to help me through.

Imagine my surprise then, when I got a call early the next morning from my mother telling me that the operation had gone better than expected and my father was doing great. I thought that maybe I had made up the experience the night before, but of course a few months later when we learned that the doctors had missed some of the cancer and that my father would not be with us much longer I knew why the Lord had told me when he did that he needed my father to serve a mission on the other side. This testimony borne to me by the Spirit in answer to my prayers is one that offers continuous comfort to me, and strengthens my testimony that Christ rose from the grave and lives again.

My life has changed because I gained a testimony that…
Christ lives: If Christ lives, then He has overcome death, sin, pain, sickness, and all manner of afflictions. If Christ lives, then I can have faith in His Gospel. If Christ lives, then He can restore His church to the earth. If Christ lives, then I can repent and be made clean. If Christ lives, then I will see my father again. If Christ lives, then I can have an eternal family. So you can see just how much of my life depends upon my testimony that Christ does live. Christ is the cornerstone of our religion, and the foundation on which we are all invited to build.
o Helaman 5:12
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

o When Joseph Smith was asked what the fundamental principles of our religion are, he responded:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”–TPJS, 121

Suffice it to say that without this testimony, my life would be completely unrecognizable to myself and those who now know me.

My life has changed because I gained a testimony that…
Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God called to restore the fullness of Christ’s Gospel to the earth: I have always had a deep love and reverence for the Prophet Joseph, and there were many times growing up that I felt strongly that what I was learning about the Restoration and Joseph Smith were true, and I never had any cause to doubt those impressions. But as I grew older, I desired a witness from the Spirit that I would not be able to explain or think away. I firmly believed, but I lacked confidence that I knew Joseph to be a Prophet of God. This witness came on Christmas Eve when I was 14 years old. I was feeling pressures in all aspects of my life, and I felt too weak to succeed in anything. I turned to God in prayer, and I waited for an answer. Well, as I shared earlier, sometimes God doesn’t answer immediately, and this was one of those occasions. My sister had recently sent me a musical program about Joseph and the events of the Restoration, so I turned that on and lay on my bed to listen. While listening to this, the Spirit filled my room, and I felt the distinct impression that I had always known Joseph was a Prophet of God, and now I know that I know, in a witness so powerful that I can never deny it.

While in Carthage yesterday, one of the missionaries said, “If you want to know if God and Jesus Christ really appeared to Joseph Smith that day in 1820, just ask God. He was there.” The glorious thing about the Gospel is that God invites each of us to know for ourselves. “Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” This is the scriptural injunction most often repeated in the scriptures. God wants each of us to know for ourselves that He loves His children on the earth today just as much as those who lived in Ancient Israel.
o Amos 3:7
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
If He blessed His children in former times with prophets, then He will do the same for us today, and He has. From Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, God has called and will continue to call prophets to lead His Church in this final dispensation. Christ showed us The Way, and He has given us the scriptures to help us stay on this straight and narrow path to tell us of permanent features in the landscape along the way. However, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, He also has given us Prophets as Watchmen along the way, to give more immediate guidance for the times in which we live, warning of unique dangers that we may encounter along the path.

Because I know that Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw and that he was a Prophet of God, I know that He really did restore the fullness of Christ’s gospel to the earth. And, if Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, then the Book of Mormon is true.

My life has changed because I gained a testimony of…
The Book of Mormon: To gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, you have to read it, and then pray about it. Just hoping to one day know if it is true just isn’t going to cut it. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith really is a Prophet of God. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Christ really does live. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Christ’s Gospel really is for all of God’s children at all times and in all places throughout the earth’s history. It is another testament of Christ, a companion to the Bible, and evidence of the Restoration. My life changed because I read the Book of Mormon on my own, cover to cover, and then prayed to know if it is true. The warmest feeling of peace came over me, and my heart burned with the Spirit testifying of its truthfulness. I was 12 years old when I finished reading it on my own for the first time, and because I gained a testimony early on, it has shaped the last 12 years of my life. I have continued to read it cover to cover many times in those last 12 years, and still I just can’t get enough. For me, reading from the Book of Mormon feels like I’m drinking from the Fountain of Living Waters, always changing, and yet joy and nourishment I receive is always the same. Because I know that the Book of Mormon is true, I know that I must share it, for after its role as second witness to Christ’s Atonement, the Book of Mormon teaches us to share the Gospel with all of God’s children.

Because I’ve gained a testimony of prayer, Christ, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, my life has changed, and now I must share it.
o Luke 8:39
Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
o Luke 22:31-32
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift the children of the kingdom as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
o John 21 The Savior asks that if we really love Him that we feed His sheep.
o My family has helped prepare my brothers and I to serve missions because we have been a missionary family, and that we owe all to our parents. There are lots of things that we can do in our families to encourage one another to just open our mouths and let our lights shine. These are some of the things that have blessed our family and encouraged us to be more generous with who we share the gospel with.
• Praying for and writing missionaries
• Giving missionaries referrals
• Teaching investigators in our home
• Saving early for missions
• Parents both serving missions
• 3 brothers serving missions
• Dad now serving another mission
• Home Teaching & Visiting Teaching
• Preach My Gospel classes
o As a full-time missionary, our call is to teach. Your call as members is to invite people to be taught by us.
o What kind of effort is the Lord going to require from the Westfield Ward before he’ll bless you with full-time missionaries again?
• The Indexing efforts of the Indianapolis North Stake directly resulted in a temple being announced in Indianapolis. Missionary efforts in our stake and in the Westfield Ward will directly result in the miracles needed to accomplish the building of that temple in a timely manner.


And I'm Off!

I'm being set apart in a little bit, so I wanted to take the time to express gratitude to all of you who care enough about me that you'll actually read this.

The last two months have been even more of a rollercoaster and whirlwind than I had anticipated. I have never before felt so much joy, sorrow, faith, panic, love, or frustration in such a short amount of time all side by side with one another. But I think that if I can make it this far, God will definitely help me go the distance.

My plans have not worked out at all the way I had intended, but with God's help all of the necessary things have been accomplished. I might not be ready for this, but I am definitely prepared! I see now that in God's infinite wisdom, He has been preparing me for this all along.

I know that God needs missionaries, and that there is nothing on this earth more important than inviting souls to come unto Christ. Therefore, the path ahead seems pretty simple and straight forward. We are all called to issue that invitation to everyone we know, and now I am called as a special representative of Christ for those who accept our invitation.

God is good, and with Him ALL things are possible.

Sister Blackburn


"... has the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." -Moroni 7:35-37

I have witnessed several miracles over the last few weeks as I've prepared to consecrate 18 months of my life to serving the Lord. But in particular, I wanted to share my experience of trying to get to the temple.

I am a big planner, so I of course had everything worked out in my head of when I would go to the temple. In trying to work out the details, I changed my initial plans several times to accommodate various family members. And then once I had already delayed it to just a week before I left, we got the ice storm of the century and my plans were thwarted once again. I was very disappointed because I had my heart set on going to Nauvoo, and I really didn't want to go through the day before entering the MTC. So after coming to terms with the situation and realizing it was out of my control, I prayed that God would just help me get to a temple, and that I would be edified by going to His House. And not even 24 hrs later, the second winter storm decided to change course and completely miss the central portions of Illinois and Indiana, leaving a full week for snow and ice to be cleared off the roads and allowing me to still get to Nauvoo for a quick trip.

Having lived in Nauvoo for a time, it feels like coming home every time I'm there. Nauvoo is a special place for me, not only because I lived there, but also because of the time I spent there with my father, the person I became there, and for my many ancestors to settled Nauvoo with the Saints. The Temple was just as beautiful as I had remembered from the Open House and dedication. I was blessed to see several people I had known while living there. My stepfather saw several people he knew from California. The weather was beautiful. I had help at every corner so that I could accomplish my purposes there in the very short 24 hrs I had to do them in.

These daily miracles, or tender mercies, are so common in our lives. I'm just grateful that God has helped me see them more over the last few days. He is a God of Miracles, and He will always be a God of Miracles.

Expect a miracle to happen today!

Reflections of Christ