Come to Zion

Mon Feb 28 10:00:20 EST 2022
Episode 83

Stories in this episode: While Rachel’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder helps her better understand herself, it doesn’t ease the lifelong fears she’s had of being unable to truly connect with other people. That is, until two sisters in her ward reach out and show Rachel just how much she truly belongs; Medlir grew up seeing Rembrandt Christian paintings during his childhood in communist Albania, and that artwork planted seeds of faith that eventually led him to the restored gospel. When he is later called as president of the first Albanian stake, he strives to understand how to define and create a Zion community.

Rachel and her family:


RachelShurdha 1.jpg

Medlir and his family on their baptism day:


Medlir and his wife, Aubrie Mangelson:


See photos of the event on the Facebook page for the art competition: Ngjyrat e Familjes

The Church’s report on the art competition (in Albanian): Ngjyrat e Familjes Sime - Ceremonia e Hapjes

Quote from Sister Eubank:
“We may not yet be where we want to be, and we are not now where we will be. I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another. Why? Because we are building Zion—a people ‘of one heart and one mind.’

“I offer this invitation: be part of a collective force that changes the world for good. Our covenantal assignment is to minister, to lift up the hands that hang down, to put struggling people on our backs or in our arms and carry them. It isn’t complicated to know what to do, but it often goes against our selfish interests, and we have to try. The women (and men) of this Church have unlimited potential to change society. I have full spiritual confidence that, as we seek union of feeling, we will call down the power of God to make our efforts whole” (Sister Sharon Eubank, “By Union of Feeling We Obtain Power with God,” October 2020, general conference).


KaRyn Lay 0:03

Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, Karyn Lay.

When I was growing up, we had some rules about our behavior at dinner. No elbows on the table, always hold your fork correctly, put your napkin in your lap, wear a shirt–I had a lot of brothers–and no singing, absolutely no singing, at the dinner table. This last one? Well, that rule was mostly for me because I kind of never stopped singing.

My dad has always been interested in instilling us with a sense of decorum and appropriateness in social situations. Like when he taught us all to answer the phone by saying "Daly residence, who may I say is calling?" Which was absolutely adorable when it came out of the mouth of my three year old brother, we all sounded like tiny little executive assistants.

But there was one rule of decorum that he insisted on that I hated. We were never allowed to address adults by their first name without an honorific in front of it, even if they asked us to. So we always put aunt or uncle in front of our relatives first names, we always called our neighbors, Mr. Ms. or Mrs. And we always used brother or sister or president, when we were talking to an adult at church–always.

And did I mention that I hated it? It just felt so formal and impersonal. So when I was a senior in high school and my Young Women's leaders told me that I could call them Jane–they were both named Jane–I felt like I'd finally grown up and I cast off the shackles of the brother and sister thing for good. And I vowed after 18 months as Sister Daly on my mission, that I would never make anyone call me sister Daly or sister anything ever again.

But recently I have been reexamining my feelings about the honorific use of brother and sister in our Church as I noticed it becoming less and less common. What if there's actually something spiritually valuable in repeating out loud, that you and I are related every time I address you or mention you or think about you? Maybe like wearing a shirt to the dinner table, my good old dad was on to something more than just trying to help us not embarrass ourselves and him at functions.

I love how Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, asked people to call him "Brother Joseph, " that feels intimate and special, and an easy way to help those that he was shepherding. Understand that they were in community with him, and he with them.

They were building Zion together as equals in the work and the title of "Brother," was a constant reminder of that connection. So we might not come to any swift conclusions about whether the old way or the new way is better during our time together in this episode, we will get to hear from two storytellers who learned a little bit more about how the idea of sisterhood and brotherhood and community are integral to our experience as disciples of Jesus Christ.

First we'll hear from Rachel who often felt outside the circle of her church community, until some really remarkable sisters in her ward family showed her with a simple action that wherever she is, she's always on the inside of their love. Here's Rachel.

Rachel 3:23

Growing up, I had a friend with special needs that was bullied mercilessly. And it got to the point where he actually committed suicide when I was in seventh grade. And so I had this fear of being weird. I did not want to be different. I did not want to be bullied.

And so I would try to figure out what the people around me wanted me to be. And I would mirror them, where I would be one person with one group and another person with another group, and I was never myself.

And it was not until I met my husband, and it was the first time in my life, that I could just be myself and have a friend. He wanted to get to know me, the real me. He didn't push his ideas on me. He was the first person that I could just be authentic with, and we were married a year later.

Going three years later, we moved to Salt Lake City for his grad school. And that's when my panic attacks started. And I remember feeling, "People cannot see me like this." And I was at that time diagnosed with depression and anxiety And I was like, okay, I can take medication, and I can be better.

When I started teaching middle school, I got to be really good friends with the special education teachers, as well as a teacher that has children on the autism spectrum, as well as her husband was on the autism spectrum as well. And the more we conversed throughout that year, she wanted me to go and research Asperger's, because at that time, it wasn't enfolded into the autism spectrum yet.

And reading about Asperger's was like reading a biography of my life, and my mind, and it was a really good thing and a really bad thing. It was really good because I no longer was thinking "What's wrong with me?" I knew my whys, it was very freeing, I knew the root causes of the struggles. But it was extremely bad at that time, because I knew it wasn't just a passing phase. I couldn't just take medicine and be better. It was a lifelong diagnosis and I felt extremely broken.

I was not near family, I didn't fit in with my ward, pretty much the only person that I felt like I had in my life was my husband. And so I just decided to retreat into myself. That's when I had my first child and that was a very interesting time. That also came along with unemployment, stress, and things like that. And so it was still extremely isolating.

He was a struggle from birth, he had sensory issues from birth. He wouldn't take a bottle, he wouldn't take a binky. So he was constantly dependent on me. And I was never able to rest. And being on the autism spectrum, I have sensory issues myself. And so having a child, literally attached to me, was excruciating. It was one of the most difficult things that I had to do.

I had always been averse to visiting teaching. One of my favorite aspects of the gospel is agency, being able to choose for yourself. I wanted to choose my friends, I don't want to be a checkbox for someone. I don't want someone to be a checkbox for me. And that's kind of what visiting teaching felt like, to me is I was being forced to be friends with these people. And these people were being forced to be friends with me.

And Heavenly Father sent me two of the most special women in the entire world that I did not feel like I was a checkbox to them. Instead of just coming to my house and talking about gospel aspects, we talked about music and concerts and roller derby. And we got to know each other on an individual level that was outside of the gospel. And that's when I realized, wow, these people might actually be friends. I was still worried that people wouldn't accept me for who I was.

On a particular day, where I was just having some of the hardest times with my son–he was not able to communicate with words, and so he would have meltdowns constantly. I asked Heavenly Father, "Let me see this child through your eyes. I love this child. I need to see him through your eyes."

I had an extremely spiritual experience that I saw him as a whole individual, not the defects that I passed along to him because I was feeling extreme guilt at that moment because It was my genetics, it was my fault. And I felt like since I was broken, I broke my son. Now, it's not just me, it's him that's going to have to deal with this his whole life. So I was extremely guilty.

It was amazing how much love I felt for my son in that moment. And I was able to connect with him better. And when I told my visiting teachers about this story, they're like, "He's not broken. He's never been broken." It, it hit me. I was like, "Wait, you already knew that? How did you already know that?"

Because at that moment, I didn't understand it. I thought that I was this weird person that people had to like, despite who I am. And one of them said, "No, we love you because of who you are." Being able to see myself through my visiting teachers eyes. I was like, "Wow, I can actually be myself." And it was a really strange and kind of long transition.

But one day, the teacher in Relief Society, decided to put the chairs in a circle instead of in lines. And with lines, there are ends, there are exits. With circles, there's no exits. I am the person that sits at the back of the room by the door, like I can't even sit somewhere that's not right by the door. And I physically could not step into that room. It was so anxiety inducing, that people would be looking at me, I wouldn't have an escape.

And I started having a panic attack, tears and everything. When I have panic attacks, I can't breathe. And because I can't breathe, I get very anxious because I want to be able to breathe, and then I start just panicking. And that is how I felt as I was standing at that door, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. All of my innate bodily functions just were no longer working.

And my friend, one of my visiting teachers came up to me, and she asked me what was wrong because I just stopped in the doorway and was blocking it. And she took me out into the hall. And she says "It's okay. We can have class out here." And I was ready to just go to my car. I was still extreme high anxiety, because usually I go and isolate myself and I was like, "She's going to see me have this panic attack."

And I had never had a panic attack in front of an person other than my husband at this point in my life. It was one of those things, do I trust her enough to still be my friend after she sees this? And my friend she's, "No we're going to sit here. And we are going to have class out here." And she was probably seven months pregnant at the time and she sat down with me on the floor in the hall.

And then other people that I knew came by, they asked what was wrong, and I was able to tell them and they sat down. And it ended up being about seven women sitting down in the middle of the hallway outside the Relief Society room supporting me.

When Relief Society started and people weren't walking past us again, that's when I was able to calm down a little bit more. I didn't feel like I was on show for all the people that were walking by anymore, I had my little group of seven women that were there to support me.

The way they did that is they just started joking, they started telling funny stories. And it wasn't a "Let's console Rachel, and try to help her through it." It was more of a, let's just help her calm down and move on. Let's get her to think of something else.

Which was so freeing, because I knew that that panic attack was irrational. I should not have had a panic attack, because chairs or moved. And that's the simple truth, chairs removed, I had a panic attack, made no sense to me.

The bishop ended up walking by in the middle of Relief Society, and we were just all sitting on the ground. He says, "Are you guys having class out here?" And my friend says, "Yes, we are. We're here having class with Rachel." And he's like, "That's good." And he walked away. And he was extremely supportive.

It was the first time that I ever felt that my ward could help me replace the closeness of family. And because of the people around me loving me for who I am, loving my son for who he is and just being family has been amazing. Loving someone for their whole being is important, loving someone "despite something" sounds like there's a deficit, and Heavenly Father did not build us with a deficit. We are in His image.

We need to look at a person as a whole, they are a son or a daughter of Heavenly Father and a whole person to love.

KaRyn Lay 17:49

That was Rachel. This story and that experience with the women in her ward reminds me that sometimes the work of building Zion, of creating community and communion happens in the main rooms of our discipleship, the Relief Society classroom, the chapel, the bishops office, but sometimes, sometimes that work is taking place in a holy hallway with your sisters surrounding you in fellowship and solidarity.

I think this is an important thing to remember as we spend time with each other at church for several reasons. First, if we want to have Zion experiences, one heart experiences, well then we have to watch for Zion opportunities wherever and whenever they present themselves.

And secondly, if we remember that community is built in our hearts, rather than in a room, we're going to be far less likely to judge one another and more likely to reach out when the hallway is someone's best option.

I think we'll feel empowered to widen the circle of our love, to extend it beyond where we think it ends. And then innovate around what it even means to draw lines and circles, so that our community of Christian discipleship can truly reflect His love to everyone, everywhere.

While Rachel's story is about creating a little piece of Zion in her ward and in her neighborhood, our next story for Medlir is about creating a little piece of Zion for an entire country. Here's Medlir.

Medlir 19:21

I'm going to date myself now a little bit, but you know, I was born about 10-12 years before the end of communism, so 1978. And by most accounts, at least I perceived my childhood as a normal one until 1990, when–as it happened across the Eastern Europe with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world in a way came to Albania and the Albanians went into the world. This sense of breathing out and breathing in.

And likewise, that's what happened also with the missionaries, right. So the missionaries came into Albania about 1992. Albania is a special place it's a wonderful place, a place that I think people have have all kinds of misconceptions if they know anything about it. One of the questions that often was asked me was whether it was by Argentina or somewhere in Latin America. Of course Albania is in, you know, is in Western Balkans, in Europe, Southern Europe, you know, just north of Greece, across from Italy, a very small country by the size of Maryland, and about two and a half million people, right? Live in there.

But Albania is a place of natural beauty. It's a place of beautiful people, people that have suffered. Generally Albanians are kind, generous, and wonderful people, especially towards strangers, where they're very welcoming and let them in.

And so I think those characteristics actually were very helpful in the early stages of establishing the gospel in the country. Because Albanian's were very open to letting missionaries come in anybody else who wanted to, and even if they're not interested in the gospel, they will still be interested in giving you a meal, and a hug, and so that's a that's a wonderful thing. And it's not unique in that, I mean, a lot of other cultures have something like that. But at least for me, that is a wonderful aspect of my culture and heritage.

We were raised by a wonderful mother and wonderful father, his background was a Muslim, and my mother was an Eastern Orthodox. Growing up, you would have a lamb, right sacrifice for Bayram, a Muslim holiday. And then you'd have the eggs dyed red, you know, during Easter, and both of them under the same roof, while communism is raging outside, right. So you have this wonderful thing.

And so for apeople that has, you know, undeservedly in a way suffered because of choices made by governments, but have persisted in keeping the faith of Christ going. And so we have that, but we grew up with paintings of Rembrandt, the stories of Christ that I knew were the paintings of the famous painters, because those were allowed during communism.

And so I still remember the album from the Rembrandt paintings, whether you know, Christ's Child, or Christ on the cross, or Peter, or Paul in jail, right, all these, all these experiences, and that was my formative period with regards to the Gospel.

And so in 1990, as you get these various denominations coming to Albania, right, because until 1990, there is no religion in Albania. Albania is an atheist country, officially atheists, the only communist country, that actually became officially atheist in the 60s.

And so 1990, all of a sudden, you have this kind of flooding of the country and society with various religious denominations, both traditional so Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Christian, Orthodox, Muslim and others, but also Protestant groups. And so we become reacquainted now with these stories.

So my sister and I became educated on these stories of Christianity, but also Islam and others through these narratives, and through these paintings, and also through rites and kind of traditions that our families and neighbors still maintained, even though they're illegal under communism. And so we had this Genesis, so to speak, this seed of faith, you know, within us. And so then we begin to recognize this truth. And so we read in the Bible quite earnestly, but just not finding ourselves in any of these kinds of nominations.

And then by 1993, we actually meet the missionaries. And so this was the next turning point for me as a 14 year old encountering the gospel for the first time. And then within two to three weeks, I think we were baptized. There was no branch in my hometown and Durres, about three weeks later, Elder Oaks comes and dedicates the land of Albania. And we are there with about 30-40 members that had been baptized by that time and hearing those wonderful blessings that were bestowed on that land.

medl 23:53

Beginning in June of 1980, when missionaries first came to our being the first members that were actually baptized in Tirana, and like I said, then the missionaries came to Durres where I was, the church begins to grow leaps and bounds. Leaps and bounds and it's a wonderful blessing for people and for society. But the same time Albania is still in a period of turmoil. There's a lot of obviously, growth, but there's a lot of pain and suffering.

And most people at the time felt that salvation for the children, right, lies elsewhere. And so my mother, who by this time, was raising us, by by herself, after my father's passing, felt that the best path for us forward was actually going and achieving an education in the United States.

And so first, my sister and then I followed about a year later 1996 I was able to have a scholarship to go to Rick's college at the time, where I attended for about a year and then I went to serve a mission in Seattle, Washington.

And there was something that was very important to me as a missionary. When Elder Scott came to visit my mission. And I remember him as he did, I'm sure in countless times with various missionaries give words of advice, and a particular moment, I introduced myself and he looks at me for a second and says–he finds out from Albania and he says, "Well look around and learn."

I looked at him and I said, "Well, this is my first time meeting an apostle." And I said, Well, is this is it? I mean, I've got–It's gotta be something deeper than this, "Look around and learn," I bet I could get this from a calendar or something. The interesting thing is that that expression that counsel for one reason or another has stuck with me the rest of my life.

And from that moment on every opportunity I've had, both in terms of leadership, right, as a either district leader, or zone leader, or even as a missionary, right. We're serving people, and you're observing bishops and others in leadership positions, or as ministering positions, right? Not necessarily, as leaders. Every single instance, I had a chance I shadowed them, right. It was an opportunity for me to say, "Okay, I've got to put this into effect, I have to look around and learn." And that has been the case throughout my life, observing at every turn various examples of Christlike service and leadership.

After returning from my two year mission in Seattle, Washington, I returned back to Rick's College, which turned out to be the last year of Rick's College, last graduating class in 2001. But not before falllin in love with a wonderful young woman, my wife, Aubrey, a beautiful, wonderful, talented artists from Cincinnati, Ohio, we met at Rick's College where she was an art student. And then both of us continued on to Utah State, where she continued with her art career and then I continued my studies of political science.

And then from then on, we went to Washington, DC to do some work for my master's, and my PhD until about 2010. 2010 is a very interesting and you know, President Nelson talks about hinge points in history and I'd argue that 2010 was the hinge point in our family history.

Medlir 27:04

So 2010 finds us in Washington, DC, and my wife at the turn of a pivotal year for her. She's very successful as an artist at this point. And she's had a few shows in Washington, DC. I am about three, four years into my PhD, starting my fieldwork, and I remember being at the Lincoln monument, and looking over the skyline, and we said, "It's time to go. It's time to leave." And we we felt this–and especially she did. As is often the case in our relationship. Unfortunately, I have to rely a lot more on her on this kinds of inspirations, but the decision said okay, it's time. It's time to get out.

And so I asked, I said, "Well, where would you like to go?" And she said, "Well, you know, I have roots in Scandinavia. And so let's go to Northern Europe, if we can." And so I applied for a fellowship. And, by miracle, nobody had received this fellowship, nobody even knew it existed. Somehow, I found it and I got this wonderful fellowship with the Swedish Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, at the National Defense College.

And so within three months, we were in Sweden. And I'm increasingly getting this sense. And it's 2010, fall 2010 at this point, I'm increasingly getting this sense that, that's not my place, that I need to go home, I need to go to Albania. And so we had conversations, my wife and I did, about this. And I remember as being at a Sunday school, and I was called as Sunday School teacher in English. And I remember having this discussion with the with the with the class and the very end, in a very kind of, as often happens, the case, you know, pride comes before a fall, I kind of just nonchalantly was talking about challenges and how the Saints were often asked to make sacrifice and to leave the comfort of their hom behind.

Okay, at any moment, get up and leave. And I asked the class members, I said, "Well, are you ready today, to drop everything. Everything you've known everything you've done everything you've achieved, and just go?" And then without waiting for an answer. So just just think about that, and come back next week and give me an answer, right. And you can see where this is headed now.

So the moment this ends, there's a knock at the door. And the bishop comes in. And he comes with this letter and says, "Medlir, we've received this letter from the seminary and institute program in Europe, and they would like you to consider this possibility."

I don't even know what seminary and institute was right. I had done Institute courses at Utah State but I had no understanding of the whole program. And so we had long conversations with my wife on this issue, but ultimately decided to actually reach out to sminary and institute, go through the application process, interview process and everything else.

A year later, we were in Albania, with our two children at the time five and three years old, and beginning a new life. New career that I had no idea what it was. And reacquainting myself again with the Saints in Albania, and falling love all over again, with the Saints and my country and my people.

And more than that, at this point, the gospel is spread in Kosovo, Macedonia, right and everywhere else, North Macedonia, and so it's this expansion again, this breathing out of the gospel into the region, from these centers of strength. And so that is the beginning January 2012, is the beginning of our wonderful Albanian adventure as a family.

So here I find myself 20 years since become member of the Church, once again remmersed in my culture with my people and this history. But this time, I have the opportunity to share this my family, with my wife and my children, soon to become four children while we stay in Albania. And the opportunity to of course, continue to serve my members. You know, fast forward to three years later, first, as a district president, then as a stake president of the first Albanian stake.

I think that being called to serve in any leadership capacity in the church, including here as a stake president at any age should be an opportunity for excitement, and opportunity for thinking of all the possible ways that one can serve others.

In my particular case, it was a wonderful opportunity, thinking in the context of serving in Albania, the first stake created in the country, and the opportunity to serve with a members that I grew up with, and who mentored me, taught me, led me, and made me the person that I was.

The wonderful thing about being a stake president, having that calling as a stake presdient, and I want to be careful here, everybody knows that the hard work is done by the members, and the bishoprics, and the branch presidents and everybody else. So the wonderful thing is that you have a whole team that can focus yes, on local, temporal issues, because you need to address those, especially in a new stake, but the most wonderful part beyond that aspect, is the ability to actually chart out a vision for the stake, but also for the whole membership.

And to pray and to consider and ask, what more needs to be done? What is it that we're lacking? There was very clear to me early on, that we are very good at doing a lot of things just generally for the general membership. But there are pockets of membership, that don't quite see themselves reflected, right in Church events, Church activities, and and the direction which Church kind of is headed in a way in terms of what we're spending the day to day on. That's that's the first concern.

The second concern is how do members see themselves, especially when it's a small, right, congregation, in a country of 3 million people, 2.5 million people, you have 1000-1500 members? How do you see yourself like? Do you see yourself with a sense of inferiority towards others? Are you defensive about your identity as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Are you proud of that in a good way? Is that something that you actually are confident to share with others?

And thirdly, do you also have good examples generally, in society that you can look at like, "Oh, yeah, he's a member of the Church," or "She's a member of the Church." And I felt that that's something that we could provide for our members. We're very good at building communities that look inward, but we've got to be confident to build communities that are also constantly going outward, and just reaching out.

And the insight where all these kind of came together came when we had this wonderful visit from from a senior couple, senior missionary couple that came to talk about some public affairs matters. We were having a conversation, somebody with a lot of experience in this matters. And I said, "I have this conundrum." I said, "I'm trying to bring together these two experiences. One is the importance of engaging the community. But then we also have members of the Church that can contribute, but I want to bring in the members, how can we showcase the talents that our members have?"

And so he looks at me and says, "What about an art competition? What about an exhibit? An art exhibit?" And and the moment he said that I was like, oh, that's brilliant. All of a sudden, all the pieces kind of came together, right. There's this sense of confirmation that what I was hearing is what the answer to my prayers and my question for a long time, there was no doubt in my mind that that was a direction we should have gone, and we should go. And that's what we did.

What we decided to do was that we would–not just an exhibit, just selectively and not just our members, but we are actually going to set up a website and we're going to have a national call for artists submissions on the theme of "The Colors of my Family." And that was the theme. And the idea was it anybody, anywhere, ages I think was 14 and up–this was, by the way, an activity that was directed by the Public Affairs, director. The curator, it so happens as my wife was an artist, she asked her to curate the show. And she brought in three other members of the Church that had artistic experience that knew the art community.

And we were able to bring in students and establish artists. We had over 100 submissions that we were able to showcase in Tirana, the capital, one of the main exhibition halls there, where we were able over a course of one week, actually it was two weeks the first time that we did this, we're able to have an opening. We gave awards, because we had foundations that were actually doing this separately from the state because the stake obviously can't spend money on these kinds of events. And, and working together with various organizations, we were able to put together a wonderful event where we have now, not only members of the Church that are contributing their artistic skills, but we have non-members that have also contributing and finding out–because a six month period, they're finding out whether what the Church is, who are these people organizing this event?

What is the theme of the of the event, and you're describing there, what the values are, right? People are actually spending time to do a work on this particular theme, right? So you're helping people to work through these issues, as they're creating new pieces of art, and so we did. We had 100 pieces that were submitted, ultimately, I think we had about 50 artists, and about half of them were Church members, the other half were not Church members.

I think over the course of two weeks, we had over 1000-2000 spectators, I mean people that came in to see the exhibit. And then the end of that, when we gave the awards, the winners, we also awarded the Family Value award. But Church members are also more importantly, seeing themselves, right, confidently engaging with the rest of society, torn down the walls, right, no walls anymore, no more two communities, one community, one theme, one purpose, one objective, the importance of families. And we now are in conversation with each other.

This conversation mattered to me, it mattered to me because my conceptualization of the gospel centers around the importance of communities. But I think the essence of the gospel really, is about relationships. Joseph Smith said as much. And so that's why this is important to me, and the problem is, as I mentioned earlier, is that when we think of communities, sometimes we run the risk of just kind of closing up and just saying, "Okay, here's the community, and we're going to build Zion."

And then we have this secondary thought, and this is not original to me, others have contributed to this, that Zion somehow will come about, in a way independent of what we're doing and you know, Christ would bring Zion down. And then we kind of enter it, right, we participate in this millennial glory. And certainly there is that aspect of it, Christ, when Christ comes something changes, but we have to all along, be working towards that. And we can't do that wnless we're opening up and broadening the borders of Zion.

And, and as again, a good friend of mine has alluded to this, you know, Zion, oftentimes the growth and the rhythm of Zion is kind of like breathing in and breathing out. There have been times in the past where Zion kind of just breathed in, there's a moment of consolidation, there's a need for us kind of coming together.

But then there is this period of expansion, expansion, breathing out. So breathe in, breathe out. And that's the point of community, I think, right? Zion is a community. And so yes, there are times when we need to kind of come back consolidate, get strength from one another, but then we need to confidently just tear down the walls and just go out.

I thought often of the question of what drove me towards those particular activities or this particular events, and of course, you know, we can go back and think about where it all started, right? It starts with the pictures of Christ, with Rembrandt and others. And this visual aspect, right of, of the Saints and others that have come before us. And so maybe there is this relationship between having this art show, right, that in a way encapsulates what we can give, but as a manifestation of the divine presence as well.

Albanians actually a very generous of you have religious understanding and living together with others? I mean, there are, as I mentioned earlier, there's Muslims and Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Protestants and others. And so for me doing all these things in Albania, with Albanians, for Albanians, right, and by Albanians, because they are doing this, I'm not doing this, I'm just, saying, it'll be great if we did, and then everybody else contributes this wonderful talents into something like this, and countless hours.

And that is special. That is special, because that's where godliness is manifested. That's where, you know, in the service of one another, in the inspiration, that that comes about through the process of preparing for it. I've always talked about my mantra is process over outcome. Right, that is that we find God, we encounter God, not at the destination, but on the way to the destination.

Not taking shortcuts, not shortchanging our experiences, but working through all the problems because in that process, as you're painting that wonderful painting of what the family means to you, as you're engaging with the community, you find God. You find Christ. And that, to me, at least, is the most sublime form of worship.

Because, again, we're worshiping together, right? We're not worshiping individually, closeted away, hidden away inside from one another. We're constantly having this spiritual, wonderful, divine experiences, as we are communicating with Muslims, and Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Protestants and the Bektashi, and can you imagine that, I mean, this is like, this is like Pentecost, right? The day of Pentecost, like when people are talking different languages, and they're come from different backgrounds, and the Spirit descends upon all of them.

And you bet that that is how it felt when we all speak in different languages, so to speak, right, different religious languages, different religious traditions, but we're all bearing witness to the same God. A God who loves us, and the God that we ultimately all will come to know as He truly is. And that, to me, is a real blessing, and the real meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

KaRyn Lay 42:30

That was Medlir. I've known Medlir and his talented artists wife, Aubrey since their Washington DC days, and we were lucky enough to be able to sit around my kitchen table to record the story. When his one week trip to BYU Idaho from his current home in Tokyo became a month long quarantine because of COVID-19.

There is nothing quite like waiting desperately for an email confirmation of your negative COVID test so you can board your flight home the next day, only to be disappointed when the test still doesn't say what it needs to.

And all this pandemic drama got me thinking about Medlir's reference to his beloved Albania, breathing in and breathing out after years of communist control, and how he connected that to our own sense of community as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those seasons–that season of breathing in and breathing out, man, those are really real for us right now, aren't they?

These past two pandemic years have totally felt like a big fat breathing in. We've been battening down the hatches, circling our wagons, finding strength in our bubbles. And in our personal study as we've literally and necessarily been locked down and quarantined and masked off from one another and our beloved Church community.

Some beautiful things have come from that. I mean, I personally have had time and space to be quiet enough to actually look for and hear the voice of the Lord in my life. But in the true cadence of humanity, after such a breath and expanding our lungs and capacity, there's an ache, an ache to breathe out. That's inevitable.

I believe that our discipleship will always eventually invite us to seek community again. To cast our nets wide, to open the circle to discover how we exist in relationship to one another. I keep thinking about Medlir reminding us that we are building Zion now, not waiting for God to present us with it at the end of our life. And if Zion truly is defined as a people have one heart and one mind, then it probably won't work without well–people.

The truth is that we need each other. We need the divine friction and divine support that comes from sitting next to each other in hallways and pews and community centers and art galleries. If we're supposed to have community in our hearts then we need to put our bodies in physical places where community can grow, like our weekly Church services. I'm saying this out loud as much for me as I am for you. Because it is hard to go back to physical Church sometimes now that I have experienced pajama church.

But I'm reminded by today's stories, that being together in communion with other Saints, the breathing out, that's as important as the practice of my breathing in. You know, one of the most beautiful parts of Christianity as it's been restored in the latter days is the paradigm shifting theology, that we are literal children of Heavenly Parents, children who chose to come to this earth and most likely had a hand in the development of our own testing grounds.

That knowledge changes how we understand our relationship to every other person on this wild ride alongside us. From the pharmacy clerk to the guy who honked crazily at you while driving to the woman on the bus wearing hajib, to the celebrity having a meltdown on the cover of the grocery store magazine, to that troll who says the worst things in the comment section of the newspaper. These people near and far, they're family. They're your sister, they're my brother. They're our siblings on their best days and their worst days. These are the people who we must seek to build Zion with. And it won't be easy. But we don't have to do the breathing out on our own anymore than we had to do the breathing in alone.

I love what Sister Sharon Eubanks said in the October 2020, General Conference about building design community, she said, quote, "We may not yet be where we want to be. And we're not now where we will be. I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another. Why? Because we are building Zion, a people of one heart and one mind. I offer this invitation be part of a collective force that changes the world for good. Our covenantal assignment is to minister to lift up the hands that hang down to put struggling people on our backs, or in our arms and carry them. It isn't complicated to know what to do. But it often goes against our selfish interests and we have to try. The women and men of this church have unlimited potential to change society. I have full spiritual confidence that as we seek union of feeling, we will call down the power of God to make our efforts whole." End quote.

And there it is friends. We will call down the power of God to make our efforts whole. Because long, long before they were our brother and our sister, that melting down celebrity, that road rage driver, that woman having a panic attack outside the Relief Society room, and the Albanian teenager who only knows Christ from a painting. They were His children and He wants to help us. He will help us help each other into community to union of feeling and Zion hearts, if we will choose to breathe in, and then breathe out the love of Jesus Christ our Savior together.

That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to our storytellers, Rachel and Medlir. And Medlir we hope you're finally home in Japan all the fingers crossed. You can learn more about Medlir and about Rachel and all of our storytellers in our show notes at LDS living.com/thisisthegospel.

All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a true story about your life and living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to hear it. You can call and pitch your story on our pitch line at 515-519-6179. We meet so many of our storytellers this way including Rachel from this episode, so give us a call.

You'll have three minutes to leave us a pitch so plan ahead to give us the best parts first. You can find more tips on how to pitch a great story by following us on Facebook or Instagram at @thisisthegospel_podcast. And if you love this new season of great stories please tell us all about it. You can leave us a review on Apple Stitcher or whatever platform you listen on reviews really do help this podcast to show up more often in the recommendations so that new people can find us.

This episode was produced and edited by Erika Free with additional story production by me, KaRyn Lay, it was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at six studios and our executive producers Aaron Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDS living.com/podcasts

View More