Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Last Letter

Zone Conference was incredible this last Friday. What an amazing experience to hear from Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy and his wife, and from President and Sister Packard, of course. President asked me to play piano for him as he sang "Abide with Me, 'Tis Eventide" for the musical number at Elder Nielsen's request. We hadn't rehearsed it together at all...I told him to wait for the introduction, then an interlude and key change after the second verse - it came together VERY well, and was an awesome experience to be able to not only pull that off, but to invite the Spirit into the meeting in such a special way.

Remember Bryan from my email last week? We met with him this week, and he told us how badly he wants to change. He's never known God, and really wants to know more. I shared with him Alma the Younger's conversion story from Alma 36, and we discussed the Atonement and our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Spirit was so strong in that lesson. He later told us that this was the first time he had ever invited missionaries to come back, and asked us to continue teaching him. He said, "If you had been any older, or 'chicks' or something, I wouldn't have let you in." It would seem that he needed Elders to teach him - the Lord has been preparing him, and when he was ready, the Lord took the Sisters out of this area and sent us here. I felt amazingly blessed to be one of the Elders who the Lord sent to reach out to one of His sons who's ready to accept the gospel, and that I had the chance to help one more person before my time as a missionary is up.

This ward has been very, very kind to me as I prepare to return home. Encouragement and well-wishes, pictures, a lobster dinner from one family (maybe my mom will post the picture for me?), and many, many people thanking me for the impact I've made and the service I've given. It's been an indescribable blessing and privilege to have been on a mission for the last two years of my life.

Looking back on my mission, I see that through my service to the Lord and His children, I have been molded and shaped into a disciple of Christ. I spent far too much of my time and energy during the first year or so of my mission trying to be a good missionary, trying to be the best I could possibly be, and I didn't get too far. The minute I lost myself, forgot about my own problems and just served, I was transformed. I've come so much closer to both my Father in Heaven and my Savior than ever before. I see the world in a different light, and I see everyone around me as my brother or sister, and I love them. I have a peace, a hope and a joy that can only come from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have an eternal perspective.  I'm a new man.

It's hard to believe that my two years are already at a close...time truly has flown right on by. I'm going to miss New England terribly, but I know that I'm headed in the right direction. This is the last email you'll receive from me as a full-time missionary - I'll spend the next six weeks at home with my family for the holidays, and then head up to BYU for school the first week of January.

My first whole lobster dinner

I remember the first time it hit me that I would be going home, that I wouldn't be a missionary forever...that was about six months ago, I think. I was distraught, and I hated thinking about the future. Whenever someone asked about my plans or about how long I've been in the field, it just really bothered me. But now, I've not only come to accept that it's my time to go, but I feel calm and confident about everything. A few weeks ago, I came to the realization that the Lord still has a work for me to do. Since then, I've coined a motto that I now live by: "The work doesn't end when the tag comes off." My part in the Work of Salvation and my life of Church service is just beginning. I know that the Lord will continue to bless and strengthen me as I put Him first and seek to lift and bless the lives of others each day. I still have a lot of growing to do, but the changes within me have been significant and lasting.

I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve as a full-time missionary, as a representative of Jesus Christ Himself. I'm grateful for what I have learned and for how He has transformed me through the Atonement. His enabling grace supports and succors me each and every day. My sorrows, pains, struggles and trials are lost in the light of His love. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I know that He is with me every step of the way.

"Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren [and sisters]; and on, on to the victory!" (D&C 128:22).

Elder DeLong

How is music a conduit for spirituality?

I often find myself stressed out and worried about any or all aspects of my personal life – there's so much to do and not enough time to accomplish anything. How can I help my friends with their problems? How am I supposed to overcome my own struggles? I'll never be good enough… the list of fears and doubts goes on and on. In these moments, I sit down at my piano and just play. My worries and cares melt away as my mind is filled with chord structures, harmonies, and various other intricacies of music. This process has become second nature to me, almost by instinct. I don't think; I just play what I feel, making it all up as I go. It's a therapeutic catharsis for me; you might even call it a form of meditation.
Some would say that it's only because I'm doing something I love, but I know there's more to it than that. Just listening to music helps me to cope with the trials and difficulties of life. Why is that? As I've spoken with fellow musicians and friends over the years, every one of them who is truly devoted to their music has agreed that when they sing or play, they feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. Each of them has felt a “Higher Power” involved.
While I'm happy to play piano for church meetings and I enjoy playing as a professional accompanist for others, music is most fulfilling for me when I use my talents for the glory of God. To me, that means releasing my cares of what other people think of my voice or my self-consciousness of how good people think I am at playing the piano, and performing solely for God. It's as though I'm giving my whole soul to Him. I can use the musical gifts that He has given me as a heartfelt prayer or an expression of worship and praise.
A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of being involved in a concert where we depicted the last week of Jesus Christ's mortal life, the Atonement, and the Resurrection through a cast of soloists, choir (which I sang in for this performance), and full orchestra. As I sang with the choir of my Savior at our performance, I felt God speaking to me through the music, bearing witness to me that Jesus is the Christ. It was a beautiful, indescribable moment. I had felt near to Him before, but it had been fleeting and left little impact on my soul. Until that moment I had never experienced a feeling so vivid and powerful. My heart seemed to overflow under His influence and I felt transformed. It was as if some sort of channel had opened up between me and the heavens. Not only love, but light and truth descended upon me. I came to know that Christ truly suffered for my sins, and He knows my every sorrow and pain. Through His enabling grace, I can overcome my weaknesses. Because He lives, I will live again. His promises are sure, and He is with me in every moment of my life as I struggle on in faith. I came to know exactly what it means to “sing redeeming love,” to use a scriptural phrase. I felt His love stronger that night as my soul learned these truths than I ever had before and I will never forget that experience.
For me, this moment defines the true power that music has to allow us to commune with Deity. As I continue on in my life, I seek to recreate that moment in each and every day. It happens when I listen to peaceful music. It happens as I allow the Lord to remove my sorrows and sufferings when I sit and play the piano. It happens as I sing for Him, whether on my own or in front of an audience. He speaks to me in these sacred, special moments when I seek His presence. Music brings us closer to Him and heals our weary and injured souls. Through it, our Father in Heaven can communicate with us and send manifestations of His love, letting us know that we are never alone.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Elder S. Gifford Nielsen will be touring our mission this week, going to all of our zone conferences! I'm pretty excited for that - zone conferences are always great, but especially when a General Authority comes!

I had my last district meeting this past's strange to think that in an all-too-short week and a half, I'll be headed home. My two years are nearly up, but the end of my full-time mission is just the beginning of a life of participation in the Work of Salvation! In fact, I discovered this week that I will be at home for exactly 6 weeks before heading off to BYU for school...I literally move into my apartment in Provo on the next transfer day! I'll be at home for exactly one transfer, and so that's how I'm going to look at it. I'm just getting transferred to Mesa, and then to Provo. I'll still be a missionary, just in a different capacity of service.

We've had the chance to tract a little bit in the past couple weeks, which has actually been pretty cool. I feel out of practice a bit, so to speak, but we did have a couple of great experiences. At one house, I felt prompted to knock on the door across the street...we did so, and no one answered. As we turned around to walk to the next house, a car pulled into the driveway - turns out that the mother of the family (who got out of the car to talk to us for a couple minutes) went to school at Weber State and has several LDS friends. She has a very positive impression of the Church and asked for our number and any information we have! The Lord will lead us as we trust in the promptings He sends us through the Spirit.

Yesterday, I sang in church with three other brethren from the ward. We did a quartet arrangement of "How Can I Keep from Singing?" and it turned out quite nicely. It's such a joy to be able to use the talents that Heavenly Father has given me to glorify His name and bless the lives of others. I've decided that that's what my life needs to be about; I want to be able to touch the hearts of others through music. I don't know if that's through playing piano, singing, or writing music, but we'll see what happens. For now, I have the privilege to reach out to others as a full-time missionary.   =]
We found out yesterday from our Bishop that we'll be getting a new ward mission leader this week. It makes me sad, since Brother Hampton has been great. We should find out who our new WML is sometime soon.

Cool story from this week! We have a list of inactive brethren of all ages who fall under the category of "prospective elders." We've been visiting them and working on helping them come back to the fold. One such visit from this week was seemingly unproductive - the man was in his 60s, has never really been active, and wasn't interested in coming to church. His 20-something year old, non-member son Bryan was there as well, and he seemed rather apathetic to our presence. He was friendly, but nothing in what he said or did would have said that he's interested. We had a nice but short spiritual thought, and left our number for them to call us if they decided to come to church or if we could offer any sort of service. Bryan walked us out to our car; once we were outside, he began asking us tons of questions about the Church, the priesthood, who we are as missionaries, and if he could take the lessons. It was amazing! He remembers getting a blessing when he was younger (his aunt is very active, and used to be the Relief Society president in this ward), and asked if we could give him one. It was an awesome experience, and definitely a lesson that you can find those who are prepared in the unlikeliest of places!

Keep making those gospel invitations to those around you, and pray for direction from the Lord on who and how you can serve today. I promise you that great joy comes through forgetting yourself and serving others.

Elder DeLong

Monday, November 4, 2013


It's pretty legit to be serving here when something like that happens. Granted, it wasn't as big down here in Connecticut since we're farther away from Boston, but still. I was pretty excited to hear they won! 

Can I just say how much I have come to love this ward? I was sitting in sacrament meeting yesterday and was just overwhelmed by a love for these people and a desire to help them come closer to Christ. It was a wonderful testimony meeting besides that; I took the opportunity to bear my own testimony from the stand, since it will be my last time as a full-time missionary to do so in a fast and testimony meeting. 

We've been getting more and more splits happening with the brethren in the ward, and we're really starting to help a lot of the less-active members here, which is exciting! We also had a couple of unplanned service projects pop up: we raked leaves for an elderly sister in the ward, and the other happened right at our apartment. Our landlady had a couple of trees taken down a week or so ago, and the older gentleman who lives next door came over to split the logs that were piled up. This was in the middle of the day, right as we were finishing studies...we noticed him out the window, and decided to change into "service clothes" (jeans and a T-shirt) and help him out. He really appreciated our help, and it was a great experience for us as well. It's awesome to see how the Lord leads and guides us each day in the things we do in His service. 

We did an exchange with the Southington Elders this week (the other companionship in our district). I went and served in their area with Elder Butters and Elders Gibson and Seaich served in our area. It was fun to be able to serve with Elder Butters again - it's the first time I've had any one-on-one time with him since I trained him in Lowell. 

In case any of you are wondering, no, we didn't do anything on Halloween! We were asked to be in our apartments by 6:00 PM to be safe that night. A friend of mine and his companion had to leave their apartment on Tuesday, and didn't get back until yesterday. They're serving in Salem, MA...'nuff said. 

This week, I did my MTC teaching evaluation video for my application to teach there. It was fun to do, but not so fun to try and figure out how to get a recorded cassette tape into a digital format...Brother Carlson to the rescue! He's our ward's technical and computer wizard. Huge thanks to him for his help! In my defense, I had planned on just using my digital camera, but the microphone was just not picking us up from the distance it was at in order to get all of us in the frame. 

We had the privilege of attending our ward's Young Women in Excellence program last night. The Young Women presidency asked me to sing for it, and I was happy to do so. I sang "Face to Face" by Kenneth Cope - sorry Mom, I forgot to record it for you. The thought honestly crossed my mind, and I had my camera ready to go and everything...but then I realized that I forgot to give it to Elder Gibson to press "record"...oops. At any rate, that went well, and the program as a whole was wonderful. FOUR girls had earned their Personal Progress award, which is really cool. It was incredible to hear them bear their testimonies - I certainly didn't have that kind of a testimony at their age. I've been very impressed with the strength of the Church's youth here in New England, but especially the youth in this area. 

This week, as we were teaching an investigator, I bore my testimony to him of the blessings of the gospel and of how the Atonement of Jesus Christ has changed me. He stopped for a moment and said, "You know, I can see it in you two." He went on to say how we were such kind, bright, and positive people...but what he didn't realize is that he was feeling the Spirit. Those words stuck with me: "I can see it in you two." I know that missionary work doesn't have to be handing out copies of the Book of Mormon or inviting your friends to be taught by the missionaries - it starts with the faith in your heart and the light in your eyes, because those around you can truly see it! As you be an example to others and let your light shine, so to speak, you will be taking part in the work of the Lord. May He bless you and guide you as you do so! 

With love, 
Elder DeLong

Monday, October 28, 2013

My First Time as a Chili Cook-off Judge

This past Friday night, our ward had its annual Chili Cook-Off and Trunk-or-Treat party for Halloween. We didn't have any investigators come, but a couple of less-actives we've been working with were able to make it! And of course, who else to judge the chili but the Elders? There were 23 different pots full of chili that people had brought, and we sampled all of them, and then went back to our favorites, having just a spoonful each time. I think I ate enough chili just in judging it to fill me up for the night! It was a great time though, and I enjoyed it.
We've been able to get bikes and helmets from members in our ward, and so we've used those a couple of times this week! That's been fun, and humbling...I'm definitely out of shape. Let's just say my mission has made me a little more "cushy" as I've only been in areas that have cars. My legs are still a little sore.
We went on splits with members of the ward twice this week, and have two more nights for splits lined up for this week! Lots of work to be done in this area, and lots of potential as well! A couple of weeks ago, President and Sister Packard went to a conference with the mission presidents and their wives in the region. Several general authorities were there, including Elder S. Gifford Nielsen ("EXCLAMATION POINT!" from this last General Conference) who will be coming to our mission next month, and Elder Russell M. Nelson. President and Sister Packard shared a cool quote from Elder Nelson: "The day of members and missionaries working in different orbits is over." What an exciting time to take part in the work of salvation as the Lord is hastening His work! 

I'll close with a wonderful experience from this weekend. We went on exchanges with our zone leaders on Friday, and I've got to say, I really love Elder Moat and Elder Carvalho. They're fantastic leaders, full of love and a desire to help each of us in the zone succeed in the work. Elder Moat especially has become a great friend to me as we cope with nearing the ends of our missions. I had let him and Elder Carvalho borrow one of my CDs that they wanted to listen to, and so he let me borrow a CD of his that he thought I might enjoy; it was a burned disc, with the title "Uplift" written on it. I figured it was probably a collection of inspirational and uplifting hymn arrangements, and I thanked him for it. That night and the following morning, I was more depressed and upset about our lack of success and about my inevitable return home (and all fears associated with that) than I had been in a long time. Elder Gibson noticed that I was having a hard time, but as he has said, he doesn't really know how to help people when they're struggling emotionally. It came time for us to leave the apartment for the day, and I thought maybe some beautiful music would cheer me up. I put in the CD that Elder Moat had given me to listen to, but to my surprise it was a collection of audio tracks from several Mormon Messages, quotes from prophets and apostles, etc, each focusing on a quality such as diligence, priesthood duty, patience in trials, feeling the love of God, and service to others. It was exactly what I needed to hear that day, and there's no way Elder Moat or I could have been able to tell I would need it. I felt spiritually revitalized, encouraged, and filled with a new-found determination to contribute to the work of the Lord. I'm grateful for Elder Moat, for the words of modern-day prophets, for the Spirit, and for a loving Father in Heaven who knows me and reaches out to me in my times of need.

Elder DeLong

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Not-So-Obvious Blessings

This week has been challenging in some ways, and rewarding in others. We may not have any progressing investigators, but progress is being made in other ways. We've finally gotten splits up and running with the priesthood brethren in the ward, usually once or twice a week. We visit less-actives, help the members with their home teaching, or take them to our own appointments with us. The reaction has been pretty positive so far, and we're putting in a lot of hard work. The Lord is working miracles here, even if they're not in ways one would expect. 

Quick sum-up of the major events of the week! We helped a family pack up their U-Haul and then worked at a local soup kitchen one of the days this week. We had a couple of really great visits with part-member families that are showing some real potential. We dropped off several invitations for the Primary program throughout the week to less-active families who have children. We helped out at a memorial service that was being held at the church this weekend (I was asked to sing for it the night before - it turned out well even without a whole lot of planning or practice). Yesterday was the Primary program, and the Spirit was beautiful and powerful. I was touched as the children sang and shared their simple, sweet testimonies. Through many personal spiritual experiences this week, I have come to learn anew that the Lord is mindful of me and of each of us in our times of difficulty as well as our times of joy and plenty. 

Working hard and loving every moment! 

Elder DeLong

Monday, October 14, 2013

Elder Upchuck

Well, I have to say that I'm pretty excited about things for this area. I've got just over 5 weeks left and I'll be making the most of it! All of our current investigators have been "too busy" to meet with us the past couple of weeks, so we're going to try and get short appointments with them all to explain our purpose and see if they're really serious about going forward with baptism. Until that can happen, we're looking elsewhere and working hard to help the ward as well. I love this area, and I love the people. The weather is cooling down, and the trees are truly a magnificent sight every day.

Thursday was weekly planning day - while we planned I made banana bread, using my aunt's recipe. It turned out awesome! We also went down to the marina for lunch that day. They have this little shack by the water called "Lobster Landing." We got fresh lobster rolls, which were delicious.

We helped an elderly member of our ward move this weekend - she was living in the spare room of her brother's house for a couple of years, and never let her cats out of there. I swear, it was like the cat hair was another layer of carpet to the room. I've never known if I was allergic to cats or not, but by the way I was hacking and coughing (got close to puking a couple times!), maybe I am. Oh well, despite the physical symptoms and the smell, it was good to help someone in need. Now she's in her own space, but the members won't stop calling me "Elder Upchuck"...

After district meeting on Friday, we took our lunches and went up to Castle Craig to eat them. Castle Craig is located at the top of the highest point along the east coast (within 25 miles of the shoreline), from Florida to Maine. 967 feet, or something like was kind of funny to think that THAT'S the highest we'll get. It was cool though, because you could see to Hartford in one direction and to New Haven in the other.

The Lord has been showing me His hand each day, helping me to build my faith and be more grateful for the little miracles that take place each day. Things are going well in the ward as we're working with the members, and I know that He is preparing people to accept the gospel here! We just have to find them. A less-active, single-mom member we've met with a few times came to church yesterday, and the Relief Society sisters "swarmed" her and made sure she was taken care of. It was heartwarming to see her making the friends she needs as she's dealing with some tough things in her life right now. It was awesome to see her in the right place, feeling the love that others have and that God has for her.

I'll close today's letter with an exciting announcement: today I received notification that I've been accepted to BYU for Winter 2014! I'm thrilled about that, because I know that the Lord has answered my prayers. For now, though, I'll have to show Him my thanks by my dedication in this sacred work. Time to get back out there! =]

Elder DeLong