The opening section of this lesson talks about the missionary experiences of President Hinckley. It also gives some statistics about the growth of the Church during his time as President and Prophet. The question that arose in my mind while reading the stats given in the lesson has more to do with the work involved in attaining growth in the Church.
Growth in the Church doesn’t equal growth in the gospel of Christ, but the one generally has to precede the other. Missionary work requires effort. Sometimes it takes a sustained effort over years to help someone come into the fold of Christ. But what about those who are already in our ranks, but have wandered off and no longer actively participate in the gospel plan for their happiness?
Seeking after the inactive member is just as important a work as seeking after the person who hasn’t heard of the gospel. Sometimes it can actually be more difficult and involved because there are issues that have taken them away from activity in the Lord’s Church. These activities sometimes require repentance and an extra dose of love to overcome.
The operative word in both cases is work. Missionary work, whether with the person from another faith or no faith at all, or with the person who is already a member, requires sustained effort on the part of the people who are working and serving to bring them to Christ.
A worldwide effort
We have a divine mandate to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We have a charge to teach and baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Said the resurrected Savior, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. We are engaged in a great and consuming crusade for truth and goodness.
Reflect on the quote you just read. The world holds a lot of people, and those who have been commissioned by Jesus Christ to carry His message to them are very few in number. Yet we have been held back to come to earth in the last days when His gospel would be on the earth. We have made covenants with Him to stand in His place in whatever circumstance or location we are in. We have promised to be His emissary, His voice, His example of goodness to all the world for as long as we live in mortality.
We may not be planted in a city far away from the center of His Church in the middle of millions who know nothing of the restored Church. Instead, we may be surrounded by many like-minded Saints, but that does not lessen our responsibility to live and demonstrate Christlike behavior each and every day with everyone we meet.
Part of our missionary responsibility is to represent Christ each and every hour of the day in our attitudes, behavior, and service. That responsibility includes reaching out to every soul within our sphere of influence, whether that be in downtown Salt Lake City, the center of the Church, or in Timbuktu in far-off Africa.
The attitude with which we live each hour of our life is the essence of missionary work. Can you imagine the power and influence for good we could witness if millions of Saints lived each hour of their day with the goal of emulating the Savior? How would that change the communities in which we live? How would that change how people perceive the members of this church? How much good would be accomplished each and every hour of the day all over the world if every member of the Church remembered to serve others as Christ serves us, which is always?
Let us reach out to the world in our missionary service, teaching all who will listen concerning the restoration of the gospel, speaking without fear but also without self-righteousness, of the First Vision, testifying of the Book of Mormon and of the restoration of the priesthood. Let us, my brothers and sisters, get on our knees and pray for the opportunity to bring others into the joy of the gospel.
There are those in the Church who try to protect their children from the teachings and practices of other faiths. One would think they were trying to protect their children from Satan himself. They don’t allow their children to associate with children of other faiths, and they won’t let them into their homes. This is not Christlike behavior. If missionaries around the world had this same attitude then the work would come to a standstill.
We need to teach our children how to be tolerant, accepting, and appreciative of other’s faith and beliefs, their customs and attitudes. Those who need the gospel message won’t listen to those who come across as being “too good” to associate with them. We must learn to be humble in our service and to appreciate the good that each person already possesses. Our goal is to add to their natural goodness and gradually lead them to Christ, the author of all goodness.
The proper way
When a missionary goes tracting, very few let them into their homes, and even fewer accept the gospel message. This is perhaps the most inefficient way to reach people there is, but without the help of those who are already members of the Lord’s church, this is almost all there is for the missionary to do.
When a missionary does find someone who accepts the gospel, having tracted them out, when they are baptized they find they are pretty often all alone in their new belief system. This makes the probability of them going back to their old set of customs and beliefs very high.
But when a member family befriends someone and invites them into their lives and includes them in their love of all things Christ, the missionaries have someone who refers the investigator to them. There is already a support structure in place for the new person, because they already have someone who loves them and is concerned for their eternal welfare.
When we refer our friends to the missionaries, have the lessons in our homes or we go with the missionaries into our friend’s home, the Spirit is more likely to be stronger, and when they get baptized they are more likely to stay active in their new faith. Why? Because they have someone with them, loving and supporting them, answering their questions, and demonstrating to them how a saint is supposed to live.
As life-long members of the Church, it can be difficult to realize how hard it is for the new convert to become accustomed to the LDS culture and how complicated the full theology of the Lord’s true Church can seem to someone who has been operating all their life on limited amounts of doctrine, and much of it corrupted. We need to learn to see their transition into the LDS lifestyle from their perspective and exercise more patience and understanding.
Young people don’t just become missionaries. There has to be preparation for such a calling. We should be teaching our children from an early age that this is a privilege granted to very few in this life. Serving the Lord for the length of a mission is a sacred responsibility. It is a priesthood responsibility, an obligation for the men, and a sacred opportunity for the women.
We ask that parents begin early to train their children [for missionary service]. Where there is family prayer, where there are family home evenings, where there is scripture reading, where the father and mother are active in the Church and speak with enthusiasm concerning the Church and the gospel, the children in such homes become imbued in a natural way with a desire to teach the gospel to others. There is usually a tradition of missionary work in such homes. Savings accounts are set up while children are small. Boys grow up with a natural expectation that they will be called to serve as missionaries for the Church. A mission becomes as much a part of a boy’s program for life as is an education.
Missions are not meant to be “fun.” They are not a picnic. They require hard work, dedication, discipline, and obedience. What are we doing as parents to teach these values to our youth? What experiences are we giving them in their early years that are preparing them for such a task? A large part of their success as a missionary or their failure as a missionary comes from the preparation afforded them by their parents growing up.
Needed skills include being able to do simple things like their own laundry, cooking, cleaning, and being able to care for their personal hygiene. They also need to know how to give talks, talk to strangers comfortably, how to serve and work long hours, and how to conduct music, give prayers, and lead a meeting. Almost everything our children need to know to be a great missionary can be, and should be, taught within the walls of our home.
Universal nature of missionary work
We are all children of God. He is a man who has children of every color and type. There is no soul on earth who can say that He is not their Father. As such, there is no truth that stirs our soul that does not stir everyone else’s soul if they are seeking truth. They may have very different lifestyles, social customs, and foods, but they are all children of God and respond to the same message we respond to.
The Spirit accompanies each worthy missionary, whether young or old. The message we bear is universal. It is a message of love and hope. The Lord has promised us that the field (the world) is ripe and ready for the harvest. Do we believe Him? If God tells us that the people are ready for the message then we need to go to work believing that the Lord knows what he is talking about.
Those who listen to the message are those whom the Father has given His Son as part of his Son’s inheritance. These are they whom the Son says have been given to Him by the Father. These are the people we seek. They are those who will make up Christ’s jewels when he is crowned with glory. Just as we seek to be worthy to be among that number, so too should we be seeking to find the other children of God who will stand with us in that great and last day at the side of our Savior.