Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

Elder Mark O'Brien standing at the entrance sign to the England Missionary Training Centre

I was born and raised in Hamilton New Zealand, and joined the Church on February 14, 2010 when I was 21 years old.

My friend Andrew Vercoe joined the Church, and then invited me to see the Christmas lights at the Hamilton temple. While there, one of the missionaries spent time talking to me about the purpose of temples and asked for an appointment to teach me. I reluctantly agreed to meet them in January, expecting them to forget, so I was surprised when they came by in the new year, and presented a lesson on the Restoration. I didn’t feel anything different, but liked the missionaries and invited them back. The second lesson was about the Plan of Salvation, and I really felt the spirit as they taught me. I continued the lessons, feeling the spirit each time the missionaries came. I was baptized three weeks later.

As my knowledge and testimony of the gospel grew, I decided near the end of 2011 that I really wanted to become a missionary, and share the joy the gospel had given me with people who did not have that feeling of peace. I felt strong promptings from the spirit that I should serve a mission.

However, when I met my bishop to discuss serving a mission, I found that the health standards for missionary service required me to lose weight. My weight was 165 kg, and I needed to lose 35 kg. Discouraged, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to accomplish this goal because I was already 23 years old, and I knew that the maximum age for missionaries is 25.

I took the problem to the Lord, and found with the Lord’s help I could accomplish more than I thought was possible. Ammon, a great Book of Mormon prophet testified of this when he said, “I know I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak . . . but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.” (Alma 26:12). The Lord sent me help in the form of a wonderful member, Wallace Hau. He is a physical trainer and said working together we could burn the weight off in a few months.

I knew this had been an answer to my prayers. I made a real effort to follow a strict diet. There were many early mornings and hours spent in the gym, and my weight started to reduce. After six months I reached 138 kg. I was granted a 10kg allowance, and my mission papers were submitted.

I was so excited to send in my mission papers. Two months went by and I did not receive my call. I became discouraged, and as a result of not sticking to my exercise and diet routine, my weight started to increase again.

Eventually, I received information that health issues would prevent me from serving a mission, as my blood pressure was too high. I was also informed that I was still outside the maximum weight allowance. With my weight increase, I now had 20 kg to lose, and was nearly 24 years old with only one year to meet all of the requirements. It had taken six months to lose the first 20 kg, and I knew it would not be easy.

Once again I turned to the Lord for His help. Fasting helped me to feel the spirit, and I was touched by how much the Lord loved me. The words “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven,” from the hymn “Praise to the Man” strengthened my spirit.

With hard work the weight started to come off again, and I lost the extra 20kg in 12 weeks. Once my health was cleared, my mission application was submitted again.

Two days after my 24th birthday, I received my mission call. Oh how great was my joy! I was excited and thankful to the Lord for His strength, support and love, that He had made it possible for me to become a missionary. Even though I’m the only member of the church in my family, my parents were very excited to see where I would be serving.

I was called to serve in the England Manchester Mission and assigned to report to the Mission Training Centre in Preston, England, six weeks later. This was such wonderful and exciting news but would present my next challenge, that of obtaining a visa in six weeks.

Even though we completed all the paperwork within a week, it took three months for the visa application to be processed and accepted. During that time I felt peace. I learned through these experiences to rely on the Lord in all things. Sacrifice truly does bring forth great blessings from heaven.

We can take solace in the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith in the height of his trials and affliction while in Liberty Jail. The Lord said, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8)

I testify that we can overcome all our foes whether they be weight loss, illness, sin, lack of family support, or any other form of affliction. If we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and then act, the blessings of heaven will be upon us.

There is no more rewarding work than being a full-time missionary. I am grateful to the Lord each day for the opportunity to serve here in England.