Father and Mother went to sacrament meeting in a one-horse buggy. At the close of the meeting, the storekeeper opened the store just long enough for the farmers to get their mail, since the post office was in the store. There were no purchases, but in this way the farmers saved a trip to the post office on Monday.
As Father drove the horse homeward, Mother opened the mail and, to their surprise, there was a letter from Box B-a call to go on a mission. No one asked if one were ready, willing, or able. The bishop was supposed to know, and the bishop was Grandfather George T. Benson, my father's father.
As Father and Mother drove into the yard, they were both crying-something we had never seen in our family. We gathered around the buggy-there were seven of us then-and asked them what was the matter.
They said, "Everything's fine."
"Why are you crying then?" we asked.
"Come into the living room and we'll explain."
We gathered around the old sofa in the living room and Father told us what had happened. Then Mother said, "We're proud to know that Father's considered worthy to go on a mission. We're crying a bit because it means two years of separation. You know, your father and I have never been separated more than two nights at a time since our marriage-and that was when Father has gone into the canyon to get logs, posts, and firewood."
Father went on his mission, leaving Mother at home with seven children. (The eighth was born four months after he arrived in the field.) There came into that home, however, a spirit of missionary work that never left it. It was not without some sacrifice. Father had to sell our old dry farm in order to finance his mission. He had to move a married couple into part of our home to take care of the row crops, and he left his sons and wife the responsibility for the hay land, the pasture land, and a small herd of dairy cows.
Father's letters were indeed a blessing to the family. To us children, they seemed to come from halfway around the world, but they were only from Springfield and Chicago, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown, Iowa. Yes, there came into our home, as a result of Father's mission, a spirit of missionary work that never left it.
Later the family grew to eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. All seven sons filled missions, some of them two or three missions. Later one daughter and her husband filled a two-year mission in Great Britain. Two sisters, both widows-one the mother of eight and the other the mother of ten- served as missionary companions in Birmingham, England. The last of the daughters and her husband recently served a mission in San Diego, California.
No other church, to my knowledge, places such an emphasis on missionary work as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every worthy young man is expected to serve a mission. Older couples, after their children are reared and when health and resources permit, may serve missions. But additionally, every member of the Church is expected to be a missionary by example and invitation to others to investigate our message.
A Member's Responsibility to Share the Gospel
Early in this dispensation the Savior placed on the Church the responsibility to share the gospel. On November 1, 1831, He said: "The voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them." (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4-5.)
Again, on December 27, 1832, He commanded: "Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:81-82.)
When the Saints came West, President Brigham Young declared: "We wish the brethren to understand the facts just as they are; that is, there is neither man or woman in this Church who is not on a mission. That mission will last as long as they live, and it is to do good, to promote righteousness, to teach the principles of truth, and to prevail upon themselves and everybody around them to live those principles that they may obtain eternal life. This is the mission of every Latter-day Saint." (Journal of Discourses 12:19.)
In our day President David O. McKay pronounced a mandate that has become proverbial among the Saints-our watchword as far as missionary work is concerned:
Every member is a missionary. He or she has the responsibility of bringing somebody: a mother, a father, a neighbor, a fellow worker, an associate, somebody in touch with the messengers of the gospel. If every member will carry that responsibility, and if the arrangement to have that mother, or that father, or somebody meet the authorized representatives of the Church, no power on earth can stop this Church from growing. And personal contact is what will influence those investigators. That personal contact, the nature of it, its effect depends upon you. And that's one thing which I wish to emphasize. There's one responsibility which no man can evade, and that's the responsibility of personal influence. What you are thunders so loud in my ears, I cannot hear what you say. And what you are is the result of a silent, subtle radiation of your personality. The effect of your words and acts is tremendous in this world. Every moment of life you are changing, to a degree, the life of the whole world. (Address to the North British Mission, 1961.)
More recently, we have received this counsel from President Spencer W. Kimball:
We are still just scratching the surface of the needs of our Father's other children who dwell upon the earth. Many still hunger and thirst after truth and are kept from it only "because they know not where to find it." (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12.) There are still more places to go than there are full-time missionaries and organized missions to serve them. There are still millions more being born, living, and dying, than are hearing testimonies borne to them by the servants of the Lord.
All of this means, quite frankly, brethren, that we cannot share the gospel with every nation, kindred, tongue, and people with [our present number of] missionaries (as wonderful as they are), but we must have several million more to help them. We must, therefore, involve the members of the Church more effectively in missionary work. Member-missionary work is the key to the future growth of the Church, and it is one of the great keys to the individual growth of our members.
Leaders and members alike need in their lives the special renewal and enthusiasm which comes from regular personal involvement in missionary work. If personal missionary work is something someone has always been meaning to do, but has never gotten around to, then something very important and rewarding is missing in that person's life.
Good neighbors are best suited to bringing to others the good news of the gospel, just as righteous members, living the gospel by example, as well as by precept, are the Church's best advertisement. (Regional Representatives Seminar, October 3, 1980; italics added.)
These statements summarize the responsibility the Lord has laid upon us to share the gospel with all of our Father's children. We all share this great responsibility. We cannot avoid it. Let no man or woman think that because of where we live or because of our place in society or because of our occupation or status, we are exempt from this responsibility.
Membership in the Lord's church is a gift and a blessing that the Lord has given us in mortality, and He expects us to share that blessing with those who do not have it.
We need to live the gospel. When we live the gospel, there is a spirit that emanates from us, and good people will be attracted by that spirit. Though nothing may be said about the Church, there will be an affinity between those who have the truth and those who love truth. That is the principle of attraction to which President McKay was referring. I know it is true.
Keys to Successful Missionary Work
Missionaries sometimes ask, "How can I be successful? How does one become effective in missionary work?" Here are four proven keys to successful missionary work for both missionaries and members alike.
First, strive to obtain the Spirit.
To be successful, we must have the Spirit of the Lord. We have been taught that the Spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. Therefore, one of our first priorities is to make sure our own personal lives are in order. The Lord declared, "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." (Doctrine and Covenants 38:42.)
The Savior has given us His law about teaching His gospel: "The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach." (Doctrine and Covenants 42:14.)
And again the Lord declared: "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men." (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21.)
The sequence of steps to possessing the power of God in teaching the gospel is to first seek to obtain the word, then to understand through the Spirit, and finally to have the power to convince.
How do we obtain the Spirit? "By the prayer of faith," says the Lord. Therefore, we must pray with sincerity and real intent. We must pray for increased faith and pray for the Spirit to accompany our teaching. We should ask the Lord for forgiveness.
Our prayers must be offered in the same spirit and with the same fervor as were the prayers of Enos in the Book of Mormon. Most are familiar with that inspiring story, so I will not repeat the background. I only want to draw your attention to these words. Enos testified: "I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins." He clarified that wrestle with God. Note the fervor in his petition:
"My soul hungered."
"I kneeled down before my Maker."
"I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul."
"All day long did I cry unto him."
Then Enos testified, "There came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. . . . Wherefore, my guilt was swept away." When he inquired of the Lord how this had been accomplished, the Lord answered him: "Because of thy faith in Christ . . . thy faith hath made thee whole." (Enos 1:2, 4-8; italics added.)
Enos was spiritually healed. Through his mighty supplications to God, he experienced what the faithful of any dispensation can experience, do experience, and must experience if they are to see God and be filled with His Spirit. We should become acquainted with Enos and the entire Book of Mormon, the greatest book in the world-a new witness for Christ.
To obtain the Spirit, we should search the scriptures daily. The Book of Mormon tells about some of the most successful missionaries who have gone forth to preach the gospel: Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni-the four sons of Mosiah. They were men of God who had prepared themselves to do the work. Their example is worthy of emulation in our work. How did they prepare themselves spiritually for the work? You recall that they were converted at the same time as Alma the younger. They repented of their sins and went on a mission to the Lamanites that lasted fourteen years.
Following their most successful mission, they met their former missionary companion, the prophet Alma, quite by accident. He accounted for their success in these words: "They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Alma 17:2-3; italics added.)
Ammon, one of these great missionaries, testified how thousands of souls may be brought to the Lord: "Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing-unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousand of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance." (Alma 26:22; italics added.)
Note the four essential ingredients to obtaining the Spirit: the exercise of repentance, faith, good works, and prayer without ceasing as conditions to bringing souls into the Church.
Second, acquire humility.
The Lord has said that no one can assist with this work unless he is humble and full of love. (See Doctrine and Covenants 12:8.) But humility does not mean weakness. It does not mean timidity; it does not mean fear. A man can be humble and also fearless. A man can be humble and also courageous. Humility is the recognition of our dependence upon a higher power, a constant need for the Lord's support in His work.
This is King Benjamin's counsel on humility: "Humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come." (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:11.)
To the humble, the Lord has given this promise: "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27.)
It was while I was on my first mission that I discovered the constant need for dependence on the Lord. I learned through experience that I could not convince another soul to come unto Christ. I learned that one cannot convert another by just quoting scripture. Conversion comes when another is touched by the Spirit of the Lord and receives a witness, independent of the missionary, that what he or she is being taught is true.
I learned that a missionary is only a vessel through whom the Lord can transmit His Spirit. To acquire that Spirit, a missionary must humble himself in prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to use him to touch the hearts of investigators.
The first lesson of missionary work is to be dependent on the Lord for our success. We must develop an attitude that it doesn't matter where we serve, but how. We must understand that aspiring to positions of responsibility can destroy the spirit of a missionary.
I had discussed this point with a group of missionaries in Innsbruck, Austria, back in 1965, when at the end of a meeting one of the missionaries handed me this little verse:
"Father, where shall I work today?"
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed me out a tiny spot
And said, "Tend that for me."
I answered quickly, "Oh no, not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done;
Not that little place for me."
And the words He spoke, they were not stern,
He answered me tenderly,
"Ah, little one, search that heart of thine:
Art thou working for them or me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee."
Yes, there is no true success without humility.
Third, love the people.
We must develop a love for people. Our hearts must go out to them in the pure love of the gospel, in a desire to lift them, to build them up, to point them to a higher, finer life and eventually to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. We emphasize the fine qualities of the people with whom we associate, and love them as children of God whom the Lord loves.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them." (History of the Church 5:24.) That is another way of saying God loves the sinner but condemns the sin.
We will never be effective until we learn to have sympathy for all our Father's children-until we learn to love them. People can feel when love is extended to them. Many yearn for it. When we sympathize with their feelings, they in turn will reciprocate good will to us. We will have made a friend. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "Whom can I teach but my friends."
Fourth, work diligently.
If we want to keep the Spirit, we must work. There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of work, that we have done our best.
One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work. If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people, and he will be happy. Then there will be no homesickness nor worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work-there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.
We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged. Missionary work brings joy, optimism, and happiness. We must not give Satan an opportunity to discourage us. Here again, work is the answer. The Lord has given us a key by which we can overcome discouragement: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30.)
In the Savior's time the purpose of a yoke was to get oxen pulling together in a united effort. Our Savior has a great cause to move forward. He has asked all of us to be equally yoked together to move His cause forward. It requires not only a united effort; it requires also complete dependence on Him. As He said to His early apostles, "Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5.)
Our work will be light and easy to bear if we will be dependent on the Lord and work.
We must not worry about being successful. We will be successful-there is no doubt about it. The Lord has sent us to the earth at the time of harvest. He does not expect us to fail. He has called no one to this work to fail. He expects us to succeed. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel." (History of the Church 2:478.)
We are engaged in missionary service to testify of the greatest event that has transpired in this world since the resurrection of the Master: the coming of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, to the boy-prophet, Joseph Smith. We are sent out to testify of a new volume of scripture, a new witness for Christ.
Missionary work provides us the happiest years of our lives. I know whereof I speak. I have tasted the joy of missionary work. There is no work in all the world that can bring an individual greater joy and happiness. Like Ammon of old, our joy can be full because of seeing others come into the kingdom of God. Ammon declared:
"I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.
"Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things." (Alma 26: 11-12.)