The Art of the Graft

There’s a great chapter in the Book of Mormon that deals a lot with olive trees and branches and the house of Israel. In it, Jacob quotes Zenos, an ancient biblical prophet who doesn’t actually appear in the Bible because his writings were lost.

In the book of Jacob, chapter 5, Zenos gives an allegory about a gardener in his olive tree grove, in his vineyard. You should go read it for your self, but to summarize in a completely inadequate way:


The Lord of the Vineyard, or the gardener goes around looking at his olive trees. Some of them have good fruit. Some have wild (bad) fruit.

So, he takes some of the branches of the good trees, cutting the trunk-end of the branches into thin wedges, exposing the green vulnerable insides of the branch. Then, he cuts notches in bad trees and pushes the good branches into the wild (bad) trees. This process is called grafting.

He goes around his vineyard, grafting good branches into wild (bad) trees and wild (bad) branches into good trees. Lots of time passes. He repeats the process several times, each time with meticulous and whole-hearted effort but with varied degrees of success.

In the end, he gathers all of the good fruit into his house and casts all of the bad fruit, and the rest of the vineyard into the fire.


Usually, we relate this parable or allegory to the grand history of the peoples of Earth and their God. We talk about the House of Israel, and God’s patterns of scattering and gathering in the holy scriptures.

But lately, it has taken on some more personal meaning.

This coming Wednesday (September 28th, 2016), I’ll receive a graft. A surgeon will cut a notch in my ankle, remove the wild (bad) bone and cartilage, and insert fresh, new, foreign bone in the hopes that my ankle will accept this graft and grow to be stronger than it currently is. (Sidenote: I use the phrase “in the hopes that” as a literary device. My ankle has a very low possibility of not accepting the graft. It’s nothing serious.)

But anyway.

Grafting hurts. The Lord of the vineyard had to damage living branches in order to move them to a new area. You have to expose the inner greens of the branches or they won’t grow into their new trunk. They have to become incredibly vulnerable.

And, once the branch is a part of its new tree, it has to learn to deal with all of the changes and new challenges. Maybe it doesn’t get as much sunlight as it used to get. Maybe it’s a young millennial branch that gets re-positioned in a desert, among the Gen X branches and mere saplings and it misses all of its friends. Maybe it doesn’t take well immediately. Maybe it doesn’t bear fruit for years. Maybe it even develops a lactose intolerance. (Another Sidenote: I’ve developed a lactose intolerance since I was in Colombia on my mission)

I used to tell myself during my mission that I was the one in the tropical paradise, not my family, or friends, or anyone else. I usually couldn’t bring myself to believe it. How could freedom and free time and access to everything and a good job and good food not be more fun than being a missionary stuck in a sticky humid hot haze.

Deep down I knew that what I was telling myself was true: I was really the one in the best situation. Toward the end I suppose I began to appreciate that fact.

But no matter what you could have told me then could help me to understand what I know now. The mission is the best life. I didn’t cry when I boarded the plane to leave Colombia. But I cry now when I think about it. I was cut out of the wild (good) part of the vineyard and reinstated back here in Las Vegas. The desert.

We get grafted in and grafted out. We usually don’t like it when it happens. Sometimes it takes 6 months or more to heal (Last Sidenote: My surgery will take 6 months to heal)

But in the end, we need to understand that the Lord of the Vineyard is a good man. He is doing what he is doing because He knows us better than we can comprehend and because he loves us. We do not love God because he blesses us. Praying to Him is not a “Special Benefits from God” subscription payment.

We love God because He is our Father. He loves us because we are His children. He wants us to be happy. We cannot be eternally happy without enduring difficult things. Any other view of religious zeal without this understanding is fruitless.

But the Art of Godly Grafting is not.

-Daniel Mortenson

(Last Last sidenote: I’ll be returning to BYU in January to continue my studies while my ankle heals)

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If thou art called to pass through tribulation…

A month and a day ago, I was pulled out of Colombia.

Remember when I told you that I sprained my ankle in the CCM in January?

Well, turns out that it didn’t heal. I realized in early June that it was getting worse–not better. And so I went to the doctor. We did X-rays, we did MRIs. And then they told me that I needed to come home for surgery.

I have osteochondritis dissecans of the talus bone in my ankle. Or for you non-orthopedic surgeons, a broken ankle.

Within 24 hours of realizing that I would be returning early, I was on a plane to Miami, and then to Las Vegas.

The next day I was extended an honorable release with every hope that I will return to the mission field soon, after recovery.

The miracles of the mission, however, have not ceased in my life.

I won’t lie. The first 2 or 3 weeks were probably the worst of my life. I felt orphaned by the system,  like a mango that has barely begun to grow, still small, green and sour, that got plucked off of the fertile branch just as I began to believe that one day I would become large and orange and juicy, that one day I would really begin to see the fruits of my mission service in Colombia.

I sat at home for the first 2 weeks, stunned at the lack of schedule and structure in my life. Drifting and dreaming and longing to wake up from what seemed to be a detour, a split from the optimal desired path for my life. Like I somehow had done something to splinter off of the celestial trajectory that I convinced myself I was living before I came home.

However, with some help from my family, my bishop, and some great friends of mine, I am doing much better. I am working full-time again, so I keep busy, and I am mentally stable once again. At least as stable than my weak ankle. 🙂

I began to study like a missionary again, with some friends who will be serving in South America shortly. I began to teach the English-Second-Language classes in my stake, and I am slowly accepting and understanding better that I did not fall off of the horse of righteousness. My Father in Heaven’s will for my life was not frustrated.

I am exactly where I should be.

I don’t pretend to understand everything. And things are still difficult. But thats why it’s called “enduring to the end” or rather, the Spanish “Perseverar hasta el fin”.

Persevere until the end.

I don’t know when I will be back to the mission. But I will be back.

Regresaré.

Élder Daniel Mortenson

MisiĂłn Colombia BarranquillaWIN_20160725_18_37_29_Pro

What wouldn’t you do… (6/6/16)

IMG_0002Today, for our District Preparation Day Activity, we decided to go to Pizza Hut,

para disfrutar la comida tĂ­pica del pais antiguo (to enjoy the typical food of “the old country”)

We got in a taxi, and went to a shopping center where a member had told us there was a Pizza Hut. When we got there, we realized that the member had said “Pizza Hot, not Pizza Hut.

But we ran into one of the awesome sisters from our ward there, and she told us that there was a Pizza Hut at a different address. So we got in another taxi and went there. Only to realize that she too had mistaken Pizza Hot for Pizza Hut.

So then we called an Elder who had the card for a Papa John´s, having lost all hope of finding a Pizza Hut.

We went to that address, only to find that it didn´t exist.

So we asked a few men sitting on the curb. They gave us a different address.

We went to that address, only to find that it didn´t exist. Again.

So we asked a group of 4 taxistas (taxi drivers) And they gave us another address.

At long last, we arrived at Papa John´s, and truly enjoyed a wonderful meal of BBQ Hawaiian and Italian Pizza. It was incredible.

Moral of the story, if you are looking for peace, or answers, or an American Pizzeria in Colombia, don´t give up! Keep praying! Keep reading! Keep the commandments! What aren´t you willing to do to reach your goal? Will you ask more people? Will you pray harder and longer?

Your father in Heaven is waiting to bless you. Just show him that you´re willing to accept the blessings through your obedience, and He will pour out blessings into your lives.

And they will be delicious!

Con amor,

Élder Mortenson

Jugodor (5/30/16)

Jugodor is not a word in Spanish.

Jugador means (soccer) player. Jugo means juice.

We have a recent convert that has been having a lot of doubts lately about his own testimony of the Church, of the Book of Mormon, and of Joseph Smith. As we sat down with him to talk earlier this week, he told us that he hasn´t been reading the Book of Mormon, and he hasn´t been to church in a few months, but that he likes his new job working making juice at a local restaurant.

So that makes him a jugodor right? And thus was born my first succesful pun joke in Spanish.

But we commited him to start coming back to church and reading the Book of Mormon. So he can become a testimoniodor as well.

Also, I´m getting a lot better at making juice. So that makes me a jugodor as well. And a misionerodor.

Ok thats all for me.

Read the book of Mormon. Go to church. There is not much more important in life than that.

A Dios!

-Daniel

En el tiempo del Señor (5/16/16)

So this week was a good one! I learned a lot about faith and persistence. Something awesome happened and I get to stay with my trainer for another transfer! Which is great because I´ll be able to see a lot of our investigators get baptized and we are already in a rhythm.

I´ve learned that the Lord often lets us try to figure things out on our own at first, lets us try our best, before He steps in and helps us out. Sometimes he just lets us pray for a while, to prove to ourselves that we have enough faith before he lets us see the blessings that he has been pouring out on us all along.

We had record Investigator attendance this week! 7 in Sacrament meeting! Which was wonderful to see. I know that the Lord is touching their hearts and preparing them to receive the blessings of Baptism.

Sometimes we see the fruit of our labor, sometimes we don´t, but I testify that every trial is hand crafted specifically for us to learn and grow and overcome. He will never leave us alone, and is always there to help us. In His time he will make us into Men and Women of God, but only if we let him.

So let him. Pray without ceasing, and He will ever attend you.

Con amor,

-Elder Mortenson

And the rains came down… (5/9/16)

So it started to rain for real this week. Just about everyday. Which has been super exciting and wet. Although really it´s not very much wetter than usual. The rain is more refreshing than the sweat.

Tomorrow we have Transfers! I´ll almost certainly receive a new companion, and I won´t be in training anymore! Hooray!

Also, Peruvian food is pretty good. I tried ceviche today, which is like lemon juice sushi salad.

The power of prayer is real. I urge you all to tell God about everything that is going on in your day to day life everynight, and to ask for forgiveness and strength to be better. He loves to listen. And he loves to bless us. I have experienced this more strongly than ever before this week. We are never alone.

Tenga una semana perfecta!

-Elder Mortenson

The Creamy-Way Bread Store (4/25/16)

A hop and a skip from our house, there is a Panaderia (bread store or Bakery) called Via Crema (way cream). It has really great bread. All types, freshly baked, everyday. It is a wonderful place. And it has an awesome name.ut even more awesome than that is this:

When I was in 3rd grade, my older brother Michael, (now with one month more in Lithuania on his mission) bought a bamboo plant at a dollar store. He brought it home, carefully placed it and watered it in our room, and together we solemnly named it “Marvin Delano Bamboo” after his favorite president at the time.

On tuesday, we were in a house teaching a teenage girl. She seemed really dejected, and didn´t seem to have any hope, even as we were teaching about the hope that comes from knowing Jesus Christ our savior. After we closed with a prayer, we chatted for a few minutes about her cat, who had a sweater on (poor thing). I felt like I should tell her about my family´s no-pet rule, and about our old beloved pet bamboo plant, Marvin D. Bamboo (may he ever rest in peace).

I have never been good at humor in Spanish, but as I shared this silly experience, she smiled. She laughed. For but a moment, she forgot all of her worries and laughed about the silly gringo who names his bamboo plants.

It was exactly what she needed. Just a smile was enough to let me know that our time was not wasted with her.

She probably won´t join the church right away, maybe not ever. But at least we brightened her day, which makes everything worth it.

And afterward, we enjoyed some ridiculously awesome bread from the Creamy Way Bread Store.

God is real. He loves you.

So smile.

-Elder Mortenson

4/18/16

This week we have been focusing on finding new people to teach by searching the binders of old investigators, all of the people who took lessons from the missionaries in the last 5 years.

It has been a really interesting experience, calling, searching for, and visiting these people. Most of them still don´t want to listen, or don´t have the time, but I´ve seen miracles this week through our work.

A few days ago, we had searched for many old investigators, for hours, and we hadn´t had any success. As we walked back toward to the chapel to teach in a Family Home Evening, a young man called out to us.

“Elders!”

We promptly turned around. People are almost never excited to see us.

He proceded to tell us that he had investigated the church, and even attended a few times a few years ago, and that he wanted us to come and teach him again. We´ll start this week.

But the incredible thing was that he was nowhere to be found in our old records of investigators. But we were lead to him because we were being diligent.

God will help us when we act on our faith. If you are praying for a miracle, Go! Do something good for others! God will put the people you need in your path.

He will help us as we help His children. Each one of us is precious and individually known to Him.

-Élder Mortenson

¡Que poder! (4/11/16)

This week has been full of tough times and miracles.

This week, on Saturday, Elder Sanchez and I were walking to accompany one of our menos activos families to a ward talent show / celebration of Barranquilla. We walked past a house where an old man was sitting on the porch. About 5 steps after we walked past him, I received the impression that I needed to talk to him. It was undeniable. But, I ignored it, and kept following my companion, not wanting to be awkward.

The following hour, I couldn´t stop thinking about that man, and about the prompting I had received. I felt guilty that I had failed the trust that the Lord had placed in me, that I would act on the prompting I received. I prayed silently and fervently that somehow I would be able to make things right, or receive forgiveness, or do something to help that man. Miraculously, almost an hour later, we walked past the same house, and the same man was still there. This time I went without hesitation, and we talked to him for a few minutes. We learned that his wife passed away about a month ago, and that he feels lonely, and in need of direction in his life.

I felt the spirit so strongly, and I knew that the prompting was real, and from God, and that He had given me a second chance, that he had answered my prayer. It was so powerful and amazing. I am so glad to be here!

The mission is amazing. The Holy Ghost is real and powerful. Our Father in Heaven loves us, and wants to bless us by letting us bless others.

¡Que poder!
(what power!)

-Élder Mortenson

Spanish Chewbacca (4/5/16)

This week has been awesome, and full of small amazing miracles.

The most prominent of which is that I got the opportunity to watch General Conference (when the whole church listens to the prophets and apostles for 2 days) in an air-conditioned room in the Stake center….

…In ENGLISH!!!

I have nothing against Spanish of course. It is a lovely language that is slowly edging all of my English skills out of my brain. But it was great to listen to the voices those servants of God, in their own language, in their own poetic styles.

But experiencing a bilingual conference for the first time opened my eyes to some new truths. One of which is that, when Elder Uchtdorf made the joke about the Chewbacca costume, everyone in my little American classroom laughed. But when I talked to my companion later, apparently not a single soul got the joke enough to laugh. I guess some things get lost in translation.

But the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are true to Everyone, Always!

My favorite talk this weekend was by Elder Nelson in the Priesthood session Saturday night. I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ can heal the fractures in our heart even better than Elder Nelson, the world renowned heart surgeon, ever could. We just have to open our heart to our Saviour, and He will make us whole.

And we had our first rain this morning. Super exciting but pretty short. 🙂

-Élder Mortenson