Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the Hot Seat

I thought I would share with you a few things that have lingered with me about my mission thirty years later. When I served a mission it was during the time of memorization of the seven rainbow discussions. My mission president M. Russell Ballard was a fire breathing dynamic man who established some hard mission rules. He liked to pride myself on the fact that none of his missionaries went home dishonorably. He had a favorite black leather wing chair that sat in his office in the Toronto Canada Mission home. He called it his hot seat. He liked to have you sit in the seat then he would give you some very straight hard direct advice. He later told us that he was working us over for what we were suppose to be six months in the future but had not yet attained. He prophesied to me that my mission would be a mini-example of what the rest of my life would be like. Since I never quite measured up to his expectations and he was constantly transferring me I imagined that I would be a divorced person with multiple wives.

After about a year I decided to buckle down and learn the discussions. I had passed off three one by one in Italy where I had served prior to being transferred to Toronto. My mission president in Rome Italy claimed I would be his assistant one day but since I was transferred that never happened. For two weeks I buckled down and learned all seven discussions. I went one day to meet with one of the assistant's to the president to pass off my discussions. I breezed through six of the seven discussions. We finished the meeting. He was laughing and having a good time with me. Then as we were walking out he says by the way we missed a discussion give me a certain concept then I will pass you. I knew in that moment that no matter what I did he was going to flunk me. I knew I could be a good missionary and baptize people even if I didn't ever pass off the discussions so I never tried to pass them ever again. I subsequently baptized more people than even that assistant. I taught 25 people who joined the church. True to my mission president's word I remained a junior companion my whole mission. I wondered if I would never hold a significant church calling because my mission was supposed to be indicative of my life.

It wasn't hard for me to baptize people since I used the Spirit in my approach. My best companion was Elder Andy Bavelas who followed a similar approach. We had unbelievable success stopping when ever we felt a strong impression. I prayed every day that the Lord would lead me to the honest in heart. Prior to my mission I covenanted with the Lord that I would be like John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. I fully intended to baptize hundreds of people. One month I read Alvin R. Dyer's The Challenge. "How wonderful it is to be with you this evening before we leave tonight we would like to set the date for your entrance into Christ's true church." That approach stayed with me my whole life.

I was assigned to a companion who was the ultimate party animal. He had a radio which he listened to every day. He bought the newspaper from the Becker Store in front of our apartment. He would stand outside our apartment and say to any attractive girl who came by, "There is always room for jello." His idea of teaching was playing ping pong with investigator families. He didn't have a clue about how to commit anyone to baptism but he was a nice guy. Any way I decided to try out the challenge as his companion. I issued the challenge to the Burchardt family. All four accepted baptism. Next we went to a Mrs. Lewellwyn and she and her daughter accepted baptism. We even began teaching her husband. Within a couple of weeks I was transferred again down to Royal York with my buddy Harry Lodholm. I challenged a little old white haired man to baptism and he accepted. I ended the month with eight baptisms. I learned that even ping pong could be a valuable missionary tool.

After my mission I went to BYU where I occasionally I saw my old mission president when he would speak at the Y. I have worked my whole life to have his acceptance. I even compiled the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson because I knew it was something he would approve of since it helped build the kingdom. The missionary section was my strongest section because I knew it was something both Elder Ballard and President Benson had a love for.

When I went to work for two years at BYU Hawaii. I was able to become the missionary preparation teacher. I taught over one hundred perspective missionaries. I pushed them hard. I set the bar very high. I taught them how to dress, how to memorize the scriptures. I thought of the hot seat and where I wanted them to be in six months. I told them they would be District Leaders and Zone Leaders and even Mission Assistants. I knew from my failures in the hot seat what they needed to do so they wouldn't end up like me. I even established an island-wide mission fireside inviting seven former mission presidents and the area seventies to come and address hundreds of Polynesians kids. I remember seeing it done in Provo when I worked at the BYU Religion Department by John Fugal and patterned ours after his.

This blog is a life-time work that is mostly motivated by the fact that I am still sitting in that hot seat. I have devoted thirty years to studying this subject. My missionary quote book is dedicated to those men who have made me who I am today. I hope each person who has served a mission has similar tales of sitting in the hot seat. Please feel free to share any you care with the rest of us positive or negative.

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