Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Returned Missionary

Harold B. Lee

The release that came to you when you left the mission field was merely a transfer to other fields of labor, and I am sure, and I know you will agree with me, that there is more opportunity, more need of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ than ever before. The ideals of Christ are applicable today and are the only means whereby this old world may be saved. The individual missionary has the privilege and obligation to preach the gospel of Christ, not only by proclamation, word of mouth, but also by example, and we should so live that we shall prove that we respect our heritage, our good name, and the good name of the Church as well. As I have said so many times before: “Once a missionary, always a missionary!” (David O. McKay, Returned Missionary Meeting, University of Utah, 6 March 1996, quoted in The Teachings of David O. McKay ed. by Mary Jane Woodger, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004, p. 167).

Every missionary elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is endowed with the Holy Priesthood, and is sent forth as a minister of the restored gospel of our Lord and Savior. He is expected by those who send him to be of upright conduct and morally clean; and he should keep himself pure, sweet, and unspotted from the sins of the world. He should avoid the very appearance of evil, so that, when honorably released, he may return home with clean hands and a pure heart. This applies also to women sent out as missionaries. (John A. Widstoe, Priesthood and Church Government Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1936, p. 320).

I have seen missionaries change from rough boys to polished gentlemen through their missionary service. I don't know of any other way in the world where a young man can be polished like he can in the mission field, if he does his duty. That's why
President Kimball has told us that many and most of our leading men in the Church are returned missionaries. (LeGrand Richards, Prospective Missionary Conference, Provo, Utah, 24 March 1982, p. 2).

Out of the sacrifices made by the Latter-day Saints to spread the perfect doctrine of truth among mankind have come great blessings. Hundreds of thousands of honest seekers after truth have entered the Church of Christ, into a happier way of life. Every family which has sent a member into the mission field has been spiritually enriched thereby. Every missionary has profited personally by the experience. Boys and girls sent into the field to battle for the cause of the Lord have come back as men and women ready to cope with the day's problems. (John A. Widtsoe, "The Mormon Missionary," Improvement Era, 39 [October 1936]: 616).

It is also a good thing for the bishops in all the wards to look after their returned missionaries. It is a pity that after so many of our boys who go abroad and fill good missions return home, they should be apparently dropped or ignored by the presiding authorities of the Church, and be permitted to drift away again into carelessness and indifference, and eventually, perhaps to wander entirely away from their Church duties. They should be kept in the harness, they should be made active in the work of the ministry, in some way that they may the better keep the spirit of the gospel in their minds and in their hearts and be useful at home as well as abroad.

There is no question as to the fact that missionary service is required and is as necessary in Zion, or here at home, as it is abroad. We see too many boys that are falling into very careless, if not into pernicious, ways and habits. Every missionary boy who returns from his mission full of faith and good desire should take it upon himself to become a savior as far as possible of his young and less experienced associates at home. When a returned missionary sees a boy falling into bad ways and is becoming accustomed to bad habits, he should feel that it is his duty to take hold of him, in connection with the presiding authorities of the stake or of the ward in which he lives, and exercise all the power and influence he can for the salvation of that erring young man who has not the experience that our elders abroad have had, and thus become a means of saving many and of establishing them more firmly in the truth. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, 4 October 1914, p. 4).

Now, there are probably some returned missionaries here today, who have fulfilled a mission, and have come home with a feeling of achievement, a feeling that they have done much good and that they have completed and fulfilled an obligation that their Heavenly Father gave to them. Now let me say a word to those missionaries. When a boy goes on a mission, he becomes a man. He should become a man. He is no longer a kid. He is a man. He is an adult; he is mature. And when he comes home from his mission, he should be a man of strength and power and have ideas and the controls, so that any girl who would date a returned missionary should be able to say, "He has been a missionary; therefore, I have full confidence in him. He would never propose anything that would compromise us in the slightest. I have confidence in him." That is what a returned missionary should be. Two years make a tremendous difference in the life of a young man. He goes out a boy and comes back a man. He goes out immature; he comes back mature and strong, gracious, and a worker and willing to serve. He goes back to college in most cases and there he will make higher grades than he ever made before, because he has purpose in his life. He is already enjoying purpose, and now he has a new purpose. (Spencer W. Kimball, Devotional-Expo '74, Spokane, Washington, 24 July 1974).

Every missionary boy who returns from his mission full of faith and good desire should take it upon himself to become a savior as far as possible of his young and less experienced associates at home. When a returned missionary sees a boy falling into bad ways and is becoming accustomed to bad habits, he should feel that it is his duty to take hold of him, in connection with the presiding authorities of the stake or of the ward in which he lives, and exercise all the power and influence he can for the salvation of that erring young man who has not the experience that our elders abroad have, and thus become a means of saving many and of establishing them more firmly in the truth. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, 4 October 1914, p. 5).

It has been remarked by some of the missionaries who have lately returned, that though they had arrived at home, they did not consider their missions at an end. When persons become subjects of the kingdom of God they enter upon a mission that will never end. They may turn away from the holy commandments, and forsake the kingdom, but so long as they remain faithful so long will their missions as advocates for God and his righteousness be continued. There may be intervals of rest, or relaxation from the more arduous duties of their missions, but in such times they are not by any means to consider their missions ended. Christ will not cease his labors pertaining to this earth until it is redeemed and sanctified ready to be presented spotless to the Father. (Brigham Young, Conference Report, 6 October 1862).

More than 17,000 Latter-day Saints today, in response to a call from God’s prophet, have left behind home, family, friends, and school and gone forward to serve in His harvest fields so wide. Men of the world ask the question: “Why do they respond so readily and willingly give so much?” Our missionaries could well answer in the words of Paul, that peerless missionary of an earlier day: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The Holy Scriptures contain no more relevant proclamation, no more binding responsibility, no more direct instruction than the injunction given by the resurrected Lord as he appeared in Galilee to the eleven disciples. Said he: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).

This divine command, coupled with its glorious promise, is our watchword today as in the meridian of time. Missionary work is an identifying feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I t has always been so; it shall ever be. As the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 478).

Within eighteen months or two years, all of these missionaries in this royal army of God will conclude their full-time labors and return to their homes and loved ones. Their replacements are found in the ranks of the converted and devoted members of the Church. Young men and women, are you ready to respond? Are you willing to work? Are you prepared to serve? Mediocrity is not in fashion. Excellence is the order of the day.

President John Taylor summed up the requirements:

The kind of men we want as bearers of the gospel message are men who have faith in God; men who faith in their religion; men who honor their priesthood; men in whom the people who know them have faith, and in whom God has confidence. . . .We want men full of the Holy Ghost and the power of God. . . . Men who bear the words of life among the nations ought to be men of honor, integrity, virtue and purity; and this being the command of God to us, we shall try to carry it out.

Now that is quite an order. Especially is it so when I reflect upon several of the young and inexperienced missionaries who came to the mission over which I had the privilege to preside. I shall ever remember the bewilderment of one boy from down on the farm when he first gazed at the skyscrapers of Toronto. He inquired of me: “President, how many people in this here town?” I answered: “Oh, about a million and a half.” To which he responded, “Goll-ee! There are only eighty in my home town.”

That evening in our traditional get-acquainted testimony meeting, some of the veteran missionaries expressed themselves regarding the difficulty of the work. “Doors will slam in your face, abusive language will be hurled toward you, you’ll get discouraged and downhearted, but when it’s all over, you will say, “These have been the happiest two years of my life.” My missionary from the small town was more hesitant than ever as he spoke falteringly: “I’ll be glad when the happiest two years of my life are over.”

At best, missionary work necessitates drastic adjustment to one’s pattern of living. No other labor requires longer hours or greater devotion, nor such sacrifice and fervent prayer. As a result, dedicated missionary service returns a dividend of eternal joy that extends throughout life and into eternity. (Thomas S. Monson, Pathways to Perfection, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980, pp. 96-97).

The kind of men we want as bearers of this gospel message are men who have faith in God; men who have faith in their religion; men who honor their priesthood; men in whom the people who know them have faith and in whom God has confidence. … We want men full of the Holy Ghost and the power of God. . . . Men who bear the words of life among the nations, ought to be men of honor, integrity, virtue and purity; and this being the command of God to us, we shall try and carry it out. (John Taylor, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 15 [March 1881]: 1).

I have always been honored to visit with you returned missionaries over the years—many of you long to return and visit the people you had the privilege of serving. You are anxious to share moments of your experiences in the mission field. In your wedding announcements and your employment resumes, you insert a line that identifies you as a returned missionary. While you no longer wear a missionary’s badge, you seem anxious to identify yourselves as one who has served the Lord as a missionary. Moreover, you have fond memories because you discovered the joy of gospel service.

I have also learned from many conversations with you that the adjustment associated with leaving the mission field and returning to the world you left behind is sometimes difficult. Perhaps it is hard to keep alive the spirit of missionary work when you are no longer serving as a full-time missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75 ).

Frequently we ask the missionary, "How did you get along?" and his answer is, "Oh, I did the best I could." And then we wonder. "Only a mediocre person is always at his best," says Somerset Maugham. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 October 1974).

To my mind, the greatest of all the evidences of the divinity of the work in which we as Latter-day Saints are engaged, so far as practical evidence is concerned, is the fact that our missionaries go out and return with more of the love of the gospel than they had when they departed. So far as I know, no missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever returned home to announce that he has found that some other church has the truth. It is miraculous, to say the least, that if we are so deceived, the Lord has been so unkind to us that not one of our missionaries has ever found the truth. (Heber J. Grant, Improvement Era, [February 1942]: 127).

It is also a good thing for the bishops in all the wards to look after their returned missionaries. It is a pity that after so many of our boys who go abroad and fill good missions return home, they should be apparently dropped or ignored by the presiding authorities of the Church, and be permitted to drift away again into carelessness and indifference, and eventually, perhaps, to wander entirely away from their Church duties. They should be kept in the harness, they should be made active in the work of the ministry, in some way that they may the better keep the spirit of the Gospel in their minds and in their hearts and be useful at home as well as abroad. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, October 1914, p. 5).

We expect that you will come back from your missions much enlarged and blessed and more serviceable than ever before. (Spencer W. Kimball, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1977).

We often think of Ammon as a great example of missionary service. You will recall that he prepared the king’s heart to receive God’s word by being a faithful servant, protecting the king’s flocks and caring for his horses. King Lamoni was astonished at Ammon’s faithfulness, saying, “Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them” (Alma 18:10). This sincere expression of love resulted in conversion of King Lamoni, his family and his people. Anyone who has read that story knows what far-reaching impact this had on the Lord’s work. We want our missionaries to develop the Ammon spirit by performing regular meaningful acts of service among the people they’ve been called to serve. (M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001], pp. 135).

What a marvelous opportunity our missionaries have. They are making the final preparation for their life's work. They are not going to be common men and women. Every one of them must be special so that the Lord will approve of them and appreciate them. I am speaking of all those who should be on missions as well as those who are on missions.

Today they are building their life just as much as if they had loads of gravel and stacks of timber to build it with. If we could see our lives today and then see them 20 years from now, we could each go back and decide: It was back there during those years when I was a missionary where I made my life's decision. (Spencer W. Kimball, "President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary," New Era [May 1981]: ).

It is not so important whether a young man has been through the experiences of mission as it is whether the mission experience has been through him. (Marvin J. Ashton, Conference Report, October 1974, p. 58).

Recently I met a young returned missionary who is 35 years old. He had been home from his mission for 14 years and yet he was little concerned about his bachelorhood, and laughed about it.

I shall feel sorry for this young man when the day comes that he faces the Great Judge at the throne and when the Lord asks this boy: "Where is your wife?" All of his excuses which he gave to his fellows on earth will seem very light and senseless when he answers the Judge. "I was very busy," or "I felt I should get my education first," or "I did not find the right girl"—such answers will be hollow and of little avail. He knew he was commanded to find a wife and marry her and make her happy. He knew it was his duty to become the father of children and provide a rich, full life for them as they grew up. He knew all this, yet postponed his responsibility. Se we say to all youth regardless of what country is your home, and regardless of the customs in your country, your Heavenly Father expects you to marry for eternity and rear a good, strong family.

The Lord planned that men and women would find each other and have a happy family relationship, be true to each other, and remain clean and worthy. (Spencer W. Kimball, "The Marriage Decision," Ensign, [February 1975]: 2).

Always when missionaries are released they are admonished to carry on, for completing a mission is not by any means a final goal. There still remain many battles to be won. There is no final goal. That which appears so may be attained only by an undiscourageable effort. It in turn will prove to be another guidepost to the future. (Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965, p. 254).

The next fond memory I have as a missionary is that of daily engaging in scripture study. The discipline of following a scripture-study plan of learning the gospel was a wonderful, rewarding experience. The knowledge of the teachings of the scriptures would unfold in a glorious way through individual study. As a missionary, I recall marveling at how completely the Lord had prepared a plan for His children here on earth, how in all dispensations of time He has inspired the minds of His prophets to record His dealings with them. His words are always positive and direct, revealing the blessings that come through following His law and His way.

We would also take an hour or more each day to study as companions together. Having two sets of eyes examine the doctrine of the kingdom seemed to multiply our understanding. We would read together, then share our insights.
Our minds were sharpened as we followed the daily practice of individual and companion study. The practice brought us closer together as companions and increased our understanding of the doctrines of the kingdom.

When we leave the mission field, we no longer have companions to help us discipline our study habits, but that does not mean that the practice should be discontinued. As we return home, how great it would be to hold daily family scripture study. If we leave home, couldn’t we invite roommates and friends to study with us? The practice of holding regular study classes would help keep the doctrines of the kingdom clear in our minds and offset the persistent intrusion of worldly concerns. Of course, when we marry, we have eternal companions with whom we can study and share gospel teachings. The scriptures are always there to deepen our understanding of the purpose of life and what we need to do to make life more fulfilling and rewarding. Please keep alive the practice of regular individual and companion scripture study. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75 ).

It has developed those finer qualities of the mind, faith, confidence in one's self, as well as confidence in God, and has given him the opportunity to study human nature and to be able to succeed in winning those who are opposed to his views, and that in itself is a valuable asset to any man, when his missionary experience is concluded, I care not what his business may be. (Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report, October 1925, p. 126).

Jesus [said]: “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.” (3 Nephi 18:24.) Our task is to “hold up” to the world that which Jesus has done for man: the atonement, the example He set, and the teachings He has given us personally and through His prophets, ancient and modern. The Master also counseled us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16.) . . .

In all leadership situations in which we seek to improve human behavior, it is difficult to overestimate the power of example—whether it consists of parents both showing and telling their children about the value of temple marriage or a returned missionary who shines forth as a result of the changes and maturation the gospel has wrought in him. (Harold B. Lee, “ ‘Therefore Hold Up Your Light That It May Shine unto the World,’ ” Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 1 October 1969, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3).

Do you remember the joy that comes from teaching the gospel to someone who has been deprived of these teachings throughout their life, the excitement that comes when you teach the law of the Lord, and the blessings that are received from following Him? Could you ever forget the joy of your first baptism in the mission field?

In my day, the chapels were not equipped with baptismal fonts. My first baptism was in the Scioto River in the state of Ohio. It was on a cool fall day, and the water seemed even colder than the air. I remember the shock of wading into the cold river while encouraging my investigator to follow me. The coldness of the air and the water, however, soon vanished as I administered the ordinance of baptism. Seeing the radiant face of the individual who came up out of the waters of baptism is an image I will never forget.

Opportunities to teach the gospel and baptize are not exclusive to those who wear the badge of a full-time missionary. I wonder why we allow the fire of missionary service to diminish when we return to the activities of our life in the world. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75 ).

I had a companion once in the mission field in Missouri. He was a married man. He was a little flighty. As he neared the end of his mission, he kept saying to the rest of us missionaries, "Well, I've done my job for the Lord. Now I'm going home and work for me." It sounded rather strange to me, so I watched him through the next forty years. That's exactly what he did. He went to his home. He didn't have time to follow the gospel program; he had to take care of the motion picture shows that he owned and his other investments. He died a few years ago. Not very much was said in his funeral about the life he had lived. I think they did say that he filled a mission. That isn't much, is it?

You are nineteen years old when you are called; maybe you will be seventy-nine when you die. In those sixty years, what a powerful influence you can bear. And you must do it! You must do it because it will be a wasted life, to a degree, if any one of you go home and let your hair grow and wear sloppy clothes and do ordinary things and break the Sabbath or any other of the laws of God.

You see, the Lord has put out here in the world, both the foreign and the local missionaries, not only to give the lessons, not only to bear your testimony, but to take this body and this soul of yours and make something of it. And your decision today, not at the conclusion of your mission. It is today, and has already been made. That decision must be right, because when you get back into the swing of things the temptation will be greater. The Lord knew what he was doing when he impressed the Brethren to have you be neat and tidy and clean in the mission field.

When I returned from my mission, I started doing some dating, I was only twenty years old, and I liked the girls. I had many friends. One Saturday night, when I went to college, I invited a young lady to go to a motion picture show, I think it was. When we went to her home, she got some peaches and cream to serve me. I thought she was a wonderful girl because I liked peaches and cream. But I didn't get up early the next morning. It was Sunday morning. And when my brother called me I said, "All right, I will after a while." Then I decided to skip the priesthood meeting that morning. I said, "I'll go to the sacrament meeting tonight." That was the great temptation. And so the next week I thought about it very often. "Spencer Kimball, you missed another priesthood meeting. When you were baptized, you promised the Lord you would always attend, and here you are missing your priesthood meeting. That is the big temptation. Next Sunday it will be harder and the following Sunday even harder. Now you better get on your toes, Spencer Kimball." I made up my mind that week I wouldn't miss any more priesthood meetings. I promised to attend them. I needed them.

So today is the day. What are you going to do with your life? Will it be superior? Or common? Or disgraceful?

The two years that a missionary spends in the mission field can be the most prosperous two years of his life. Again I ask, not because of the hundreds of people that you can baptize, though that is extremely important, but what are you going to do for yourself? What kind of man are you going to be? Are you going to be common? Ordinary? Or are you going to be sparkling? That is up to you today. (Spencer W. Kimball, San Jose Costa Rica Area Conference, 24 February 1977, pp. 29-30).

There is no reason why the hundreds of fine young men who are honorably released from their full-time missions cannot be used more adequately in the kingdom, and this is very important, as I see it. So many of them are under-used now, and their spiritual strength ebbs away before our very eyes. Why cannot the elders quorums of the Church and the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA use these young men even more than now to reach and to teach some of the prospective elders in their wards? (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 October 1974).

One of the stakes in Utah made a survey. The stake sent out 318 missionaries in a given time. Of the 318, ninety-four percent of them continued faithful in the Church upon their return; and only six percent of them were inactive, which is a marvelous record. Of the 204 who had been married by the time of the survey, all had been to the temple for marriage except ten. There were only two divorces. What a record of achievement! Even if fewer had remained active, what a strength they would be to the growing Church. How great the dividends. Ninety-four percent is phenomenal.

Think what a power these trained and testifying elders would be in the wards, branches, stakes, and missions when they returned. When you begin sending all of your normal sons into the mission field, there will be a new growth and power and devotion and righteousness that you can little imagine. (Spencer W. Kimball, Stockholm Sweden Area Conference, 17 August 1974).

These missionaries come home after having been in contact with members of practically all the great religious denomination of the world, firmer, if possible, in the truth and in their conviction of testimony than they were when they set out. They have had every opportunity for comparison, every facility for discriminating judgment; and they come home rejoicing in the sure knowledge that has been with them, as a companion by day and by night, all the time they have been in the field. Is it not a wonderful work? (James E. Talmage, Conference Report, October 1924, p. 141).

I see men nearly every day that have been on missions and come home with a smiling countenance; only once in a great while is there a fellow looking down his nose—very seldom, indeed, that they do not come home thankful for the glorious time they have had. (Charles W. Penrose, Conference Report, April 1922, p. 32).

It is because the Lord promised that he would be with them unto the end of the world, and we are approaching the end of the world, that a missionary can make a statement like one that I heard in Oregon a few weeks ago by a missionary who had just returned from his mission? He came down with his first on the pulpit and said, "Brothers and sisters, I would not take a check for a million dollars today, for the experience of my mission." (LeGrand Richards, Conference Report, October 1953, p. 79).

Clearly, missionary service has a most excellent and lasting effect upon the missionary, from a spiritual and temporal point of view. It is probable that no other group in the Church, of like size, can show greater adherence to gospel principles, more loyal active service within the Church, better Latter-day Saint influence, and higher success in the temporal affairs of life. In character, the foundation of spiritual and worldly success, in power and willingness to do the work of life, in the realization of the means by which happiness can be obtained, the sacrifices (if they may so be called) of the mission field are fully justified. Probably no better preparation for life's labors exists than a period of earnest, active, devoted service in the mission field. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rich in its body of returned missionaries. May they continue to stand as examples of righteous living; and may many of the youth of Zion seek missionary service to bless the world and to benefit themselves and their people. (Rudger Clawson, "The Returned Missionary," Improvement Era, [October 1936]: 594).

Missionaries, keep warm your missionary friendships. You met and labored with some of the choicest people in the Church and in the world while you served in the field. They are still valuable contacts. Do not let such friendships fade. You have a powerful influence still on those mission companions. Continue to bear testimony to them by your words and your lives.

Don't forget the Saints who have befriended and fed and encouraged you in the mission field. An occasional contact by letter or visit will stimulate them and yourself. Your continued testimony will add to their enthusiasm.

Remember the investigators. Perhaps a few more letters of encouragement and direction and testimony to them might bring them into the Church. Your influence, even though absent, might be greater than that of some new missionary. (Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 260).

Sometimes we find a returned missionary who lets his hair grow long immediately. He is very anxious to become part of the world again. He has been free of the world for a couple of years, now he would like to taste that "sweet" world, if you can call it that. We find that some young men who return home from their missions put on their overalls the very first day they get home, and that old sweater that was ready to be thrown away before they left. They like to put on all those things. It always pleases me when I go to a community and I see the returned missionaries still well dressed, well groomed, and have their testimony and are eager to give the message that they had been teaching all those years.

I want you to know it is hard for me to be disappointed, and I rejoice in the blessings of the Lord daily. But a few things disappoint me occasionally and one of them is the returned missionary who, after two years of taking great pride in how he looks and what he represents, returns to this campus or some other place to see how quickly he can let his hair grow, how fully he can develop a mustache and long sideburns and push to the very margins of appropriate grooming, how clumpy his shoes [can] get, how tattered his clothes,. . .how close to being grubby he can get without being refused admittance to the school. That, my young returned missionary brethren, is one of the great disappointments in my life.

I meet with prime ministers and Presidents, with sovereigns and rulers, political and public figures all over the world and one of the things they inevitably say about us (and always with warmth and appreciation) is, "We have seen your missionaries. We've seen them all over the globe, in every state and every district of the union and in most countries of the world. Without exception, they look like young men ought to look. They are clean cut, neatly dressed, well groomed and most dignified." My, that makes me proud! I'm trying to do my own little part in missionary work and that kind of comment make me so proud of our...missionaries. Then sometimes these great leaders say, "Your missionaries look like just the kind of young man I would want to take in my business, or in my government, or in my embassy, or in my law firm." Sometimes they even say, "They look just like the young man I would like to have for a son-in-law." That makes me proudest of all.

Please, you returned missionaries and all young men who can understand my concern in this matter, please do not abandon in appearance or principle or habit the great experiences of the mission field when you were like Alma and the sons of Mosiah, as the very angels of God to the people you met and taught and baptized. We do not expect you to wear a tie, white shirt, and a dark blue suit every day now that you are back in school. But surely it is not too much to ask that your good grooming be maintained, that your personal habits reflect cleanliness and dignity and pride in the principles of the gospel you taught. We ask you for the good of the kingdom and all those you have done and yet do take pride in you. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, pp. 592-593).

Young men, be clean in dress and manner. I do not expect you to look like missionaries all of the time. But let me say that the clean and conservative dress and grooming of our missionaries has become as a badge of honor recognized wherever they go. The age in which we are living now has become an age of sloppy dress and sloppy manners. But I am not so concerned about what you wear as I am that it be clean. Whenever you administer to or pass the sacrament, look your very best. Be sure of your personal cleanliness. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Body Is Sacred,” New Era, [November 2006]: 2–5).

The week before I entered the mission field was an exciting time. There were a lot of parties and farewells. I am afraid that I was not properly rested and prepared for the training I was to receive at the Mission Home. As the evening of our first day in the Mission Home came to a close, I was weary. While waiting for the other missionaries to prepare themselves for bed, I stretched out on my bed and promptly fell asleep. My sleep, however, was interrupted by a feeling that I was surrounded. As the fog of sleep lifted, I heard the words of a prayer being said. I opened my eyes, and much to my surprise I found all the elders in my dormitory room kneeling around my bed, concluding the day with a prayer. I quickly closed my eyes and acted as if I was asleep. I was too embarrassed to get out of bed and join them. Even though my first experience with prayer as a missionary was an embarrassing one, it was the beginning of two wonderful years of frequently calling upon the Lord for guidance.

Throughout my mission, I prayed with my companion each morning as we began a new day. The process was repeated each night before we retired. We offered a prayer before we studied, a prayer as we left our apartment to go out tracting, and, of course, special prayers when special guidance was needed to direct our missionary work. The frequency of our appeals to our Father in Heaven gave us strength and courage to press forward in the work to which we had been called. Answers would come, sometimes in astonishingly direct and positive ways. The guidance of the Holy Spirit seemed to be magnified the more times we appealed to the Lord for direction on a given day.
As I look back on my life following my mission, I realize that there were periods when I was able to maintain the same closeness to the Lord that I experienced in the mission field. There were also periods when the world seemed to creep in and I was less consistent and faithful with my prayers.

Wouldn’t this be a good time for a little self-evaluation to determine if we still have the same relationship with our Father in Heaven that we enjoyed in the mission field? If the world has diverted us from the practice of prayer, we then have lost a great spiritual power. Maybe it is time that we rekindle our missionary spirit through more frequent, consistent, and mighty prayer. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75).

It was in the little country ward of three hundred people, where we had a bishop who was missionary-minded, who expected that every young man in that ward would qualify to fill a mission. He used to have the returned missionaries report their missions first in the Sunday School briefly, and then later in more detail in the sacrament meeting. I was one of the little boys sitting on the front bench, when my feet would hardly reach the floor, as I listened one Sunday morning to two of these returned missionaries report their missions. It wasn't uncommon to have two or three missionaries leave and return at one time from that little ward. So, as I sat there these missionaries told of their experiences. They had been out in the world; they had been persecuted; evil things had been spoken of them. They had hardships, but they bore fervent testimonies, and when they came to the end of their testimonies they would say, "It was the happiest two years of my life." (Ezra Taft Benson, Glasgow Scotland Area Conference, 21 June 1976).

It is always interesting to hear the returned missionaries, no matter where they have labored; say they served in the greatest mission in the world. This is because they have caught the spirit of missionary work and become persuaded that all men are brothers and children of God. As they teach the gospel, they learn to replace with love any prejudice they might have felt for the people among whom they labor. It is remarkable what the Spirit of the Lord can do for us. (N. Eldon Tanner, CR A'77, Ensign, [May 1977]: 47-48).

I had an experience a few years ago of receiving a call from my son, Lee. He told me that my first missionary companion was in his neighborhood, and he wanted to spend a few minutes with me. Lee and I both went over to the home of my first companion’s daughter, whom he was visiting. We had a special experience of being together after many years of not seeing one another. As missionaries we were given the opportunity of opening up a new town in Ohio to missionary work. Because of this assignment, we were allowed to labor together for 10 months. He was my trainer, my first companion. He came from a family that had taught him the value of hard work. It was difficult for me to keep up with him, but as we served together we drew close together as companions.

Our companionship did not end with the 10-month assignment. World War II was raging, and when I returned home I had only a short time to adjust before I was drafted into military service. On my first Sunday in boot camp, I attended an LDS service. I saw the back of a head that was very familiar to me. It was my first missionary companion. We spent most of the next two and a half years together. Although circumstances were very different for us in military service, we tried to continue the practices of missionary service. As often as we could, we prayed together. When circumstances allowed, we had scripture study together. I recall many companion study sessions under the light of a Coleman lantern in a shrapnel-scarred tent. Several times our reading of the scriptures was interrupted by the sound of an air raid siren. We would quickly turn off our lantern, then kneel together and close our study class with a prayer.

We were both set apart as group leaders, and we again had the opportunity to serve and teach together the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior. We were more successful in the military than we had been as full-time missionaries. Why? Because we were experienced returned missionaries.

My visit with my first missionary companion was the last opportunity I had to be with him. He was suffering from an incurable disease and died only a few months later. It was a wonderful experience to relive our missions together and then tell about our lives following our missionary service. We recounted our service in bishoprics, high councils, and stake presidencies, and, of course, we bragged about our children and our grandchildren. As we sat and thrilled at the opportunity of being together again, I couldn’t help but think of the account in the 17th chapter of the book of Alma:
“And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.

“Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and 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 17:1–3).

I wish all of you could have an experience similar to the one I had with my first missionary companion, that you could pause and reflect on a time of service when you gave diligently of your time and your talents in building our Father in Heaven’s kingdom. If you try to make it happen, I promise you that it will be one of the thrilling experiences of your life. You are a great army of returned missionaries. Go forward with new zeal and determination, and through your example shine the light of the gospel in this troubled world. This is the Lord’s work in which we are engaged. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75).

At the end of your mission, your mission president will give you, if in his opinion it is deserved, a document, signed by him, certifying that you have been released honorably. This is the cherished reward of faithful service. This document becomes an heirloom of the family, to be carried down to the children and children's children as a stimulus to good lives. The honorable release signed by the mission president is, indeed, most desirable, and should be sought after; but do not deceive yourself, there is another release, even more desirable. No missionary should be satisfied unless he has both of these possible releases. Every man knows his own life, his motives and what he has done. You may fool your mission president, that is possible, but you can't fool yourself. The second and most important release is written by your conscience upon your own soul. Only, when you have received both of these releases, by man and by your own conscience, do you really possess and honorable release. (John A. Widtsoe, The Successful Missionary, Independence, Missouri: Zion 's Printing and Publishing Company, 1947, p.78)

There is no class of Elders that have occupied the public stand to whom I have listened with as much interest, none who have warmed upon my heart so much as the returning missionary. They come home full of the spirit of their mission, filled with the Spirit of God and love for their fellowmen. And they are not only ready and willing to go upon another mission, but there is no sacrifice that might be required of them but what they would be willing to make. (Heber J. Grant, Quarterly Conference, 1 September 1889).

Now, let me say one word to the missionaries, including the American missionaries and the local missionaries. A great prophet of the Lord once said to a group of missionaries: "You are being released from your missions. You have filled two years; but you are not released from your mission and you never will be. Your mission is for the rest of your life, and you will receive additional and changing assignments."
I had a missionary companion who, when he got through with his two years of mission, said to his companions, "I am going home now, I've put in two years for the Lord; now I am going to work for me." That is exactly what he did, and he practically apostatized from the Church. Two years of activity will not save one through the rest of his life. (Spencer W. Kimball, Bogota Columbia Area Conference, 5 March 1977, p. 26).

Greater attention needs to be given to the effective release of missionaries from the field as they come to the close of their missions. If at all possible, there should be a final meeting of these missionaries in the mission home, personal interviews held by the mission president, and a special testimony meeting where each of the returning missionaries bears his testimony. The president should give warm but strong personal counsel to his returning missionaries. There is a special brochure, "The Returned Missionary," which will offer some suggestions to you and other priesthood leaders to guide these young men and women. Your returning missionaries should be encouraged to attend the semi-annual missionary reunions held in Salt Lake or Provo. (Ezra Taft Benson, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 21 June 1975).

I am anxious, however, that we give to these returning missionaries opportunities to serve. I remember as we recently received a statement from the missionary committee that some missionaries, a very few, become inactive and the reason that they gave as they made their survey was, that some few missionaries are not given anything to do. Now, that goes back to the bishop, doesn't it; to the bishop and the stake president and leaders of the stakes and wards. We want them to have an opportunity, but we want them not to think that they have to have one in order to prove true to their great work. (Spencer W. Kimball, Houston Texas Area Conference, 24 June 1979).

How tragic it is, how very, very tragic, when we see occasionally, once in a great while, a returned missionary who slips back into old and careless ways. That’s a tragedy that we ought to work with all our might to avoid. Think of the tragedy that comes when a man begins to get a little learning and knowledge, as he supposes, and in an act that leads to apostasy, kicks over the faith of his fathers. What a tragedy that is.

What a beautiful and magnificent thing it is to see humble and sweet and good people who keep the faith through thick and thin, through adversity and prosperity. Keep the faith. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Laie Hawaii Regional Conference, 23 January 2000 quoted in Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley: Volume 2: 2000-2004, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005, pp. 274-275).

Men, if you have returned from your mission and you are still following the boy-girl patterns you were counseled to follow when you were 15, it is time for you to grow up. Gather your courage and look for someone to pair off with. Start with a variety of dates with a variety of young women, and when that phase yields a good prospect, proceed to courtship. It’s marriage time. That is what the Lord intends for His young adult sons and daughters. Men have the initiative, and you men should get on with it. If you don’t know what a date is, perhaps this definition will help. I heard it from my 18-year-old granddaughter. A “date” must pass the test of three p’s: (1) planned ahead, (2) paid for, and (3) paired off. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Dedication of a Lifetime,” Oakland, California CES Fireside for Young Adults, 1 May 2005).

Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with here more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her non-responsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe.

Now before I continue, I presume that some of you might have difficulty with my last example. In fact, this particular illustration of the young man being quick to observe may even fan the flames of controversy on campus, resulting in letters of disagreement to the Daily Universe! You may believe the young man was too judgmental or that basing an eternally important decision, even in part, upon such a supposedly minor issue is silly or fanatical. Perhaps you are bothered because the example focuses upon a young woman who failed to respond to prophetic counsel instead of upon a young man. I simply invite you to consider and ponder the power of being quick to observe and what was actually observed in the case I described. The issue was not earrings! (David A. Bednar, “Quick to Observe,” BYU 2005-2006 Speeches, Provo, UT.: Intellectual Reserve and BYU University Press, 2006, pp. 19-20).

I received a letter from a returned missionary whom I shall call Elder Carnalus Luciferno, for no one in his right mind would have such a name, and my correspondent was certainly out of his mind.

His letter told me of his own conversion, of his service as a zone leader in the mission field, and of making many converts. But after returning home, as he expressed it, “I returned to my old Gentile ways.”

After thus ceasing to be a true Saint, and becoming a genuine Gentile, he met some representatives of another church who taught him that we are saved by grace, without works, simply by believing in the Lord Jesus.

Thereupon he was saved, and his letter, which he sent to many people, was an invitation to these others to believe in Christ and be saved as he was saved.
Later I said to his mission president, “Tell me about Elder Carnalus Luciferno.”
“Oh,” he said, “Elder Carnalus Luciferno was a good missionary who made many converts. But since returning home he has been excommunicated.”
“Oh,” I said, “What was his problem?”

The mission president replied, ”But he joined the Church, he was a homosexual, and we understood that since his release he has reverted to his old ways.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace,” (BYU Devotional Address, 10 January 1984) in I Believe: A Retrospective of Twelve Firesides and Devotionals, Brigham Young University 1973-1985, Provo, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 2006, p. 129).

Dress and grooming standards are important before and after missions. I compliment you on the dress and grooming standards which you uphold as ambassadors of the Lord. I hope that you recognize the importance of this matter, not only while you are serving as missionaries, but throughout your lives. Too often we see returned missionaries who forget the standard of excellence they once had in this regard. As General Authorities, we are striving to set a standard that the members of the Church can follow in this matter. (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997, p. 251).

It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that modesty in dress and grooming is related to salvation. I left the Missionary Executive Committee meeting this morning to come here, and the last item approved was a document to go to mission presidents, stake presidents, and bishops instructing each to counsel all returned missionaries to conform to dress and grooming standards that had prevailed in their missions.

The Bible has a great deal to say about covering our nakedness, about costly and ornate apparel, about excessive use of jewelry, about garish and worldly costumes, and yes, about hair styles. Women are told to avoid “plaiting” the hair and not to wear “broided hair.” I suggest you figure out what those things mean in the context where they were used by Peter and Paul. The Holy Book approves long hair for women and short hair for men: “Doth not even nature itself teach you,” Paul says, “that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). I noted in the Church section of the Deseret News, that within the month President Spencer W. Kimball, speaking before a similar group, quoted that sentence from Paul with the same application that we’re making here.

Conformity to dress and grooming standards is one of the tests the Lord imposes upon us to see if we will take counsel and to see if we can stand up against the pressures of the world. There is, of course, an underlying reason for all the counsels and commands relayed from the Lord by the Brethren to the Saints. Immodesty, for instance, leads toward immorality. Long hair and grubby grooming open the door to rebellion against the established order and to associations which lead away from the Church. Surely those who are so adorned are not living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. But even if we are not sufficiently in tune to recognize the valid reasons behind the dress and grooming standards, w are still expected to abide by them. We might well hark back to the counsel given Adam to offer sacrifices. He, not knowing the underlying reasons, did so in order to conform to the counsel that the Lord gave. And in due course the angel from heaven explained what was involved (see Moses 5:5-8). (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Ten Commandments of a Peculiar People,” (BYU Devotional, 28 January 1975) in I Believe: A Retrospective of Twelve Firesides and Devotionals, Brigham Young University 1973-1985, Provo, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 2006, pp. 31-32).

I wish to make this request: that the Elders who return from missions consider themselves just as much on a mission here as in England or in any other part of the world... We frequently call the brethren to go on missions to preach the gospel, and they will go and labor as faithfully as men can do, fervent in spirit, in prayer, in laying on hands, in preaching to and teaching the people how to be saved. In a few years they come home, and throwing off their coats and hats will say, Religion, stand aside, I am going to work now to get something for myself and my family. This is folly in the extreme. When a man returns from a mission where he has been preaching the Gospel he ought to be just as ready to come to this pulpit to preach as if he were in England, France, Germany, or on the islands of the sea. And when he has been at home a week, a month, a year, or ten years, the spirit of preaching and the spirit of the gospel ought to be within him like a river flowing forth to the people in good words, teachings, precepts, and examples. If this is not the case he does not fill his mission. (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, John A. Widtsoe, sel., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1941, pp. 328-329).

So it is with the man who goes out to preach the Gospel and makes a successful missionary; if he does not continue to exercise himself and interest himself in the spiritual welfare of his fellow beings after he returns home, he will sooner or later lose the Spirit he had while in the missionary field. (Heber J. Grant, Quarterly Conference, 1 September 1889).

Furthermore, young men and women who serve missions are never the same. They return home with qualities and strengths that seem to come from no other experience. They know, as they never knew before, that this work is true and that it is the most important work on the face of the earth. They return home with a desire to continue to serve. They have established a foundation on which to grow in future responsibilities. (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Field is White Already to Harvest," Ensign, [December 1986]: 4).

A mission is a great learning experience. What a magnificent opportunity is yours to serve as full-time missionaries of the Lord Jesus Christ. I feel a missionary who has taken leave from education or employment pursuits to serve in the mission field will have no regret for such a decision. If you take advantage of the lessons there are to learn, there is no university anywhere in the world that will teach you the lessons you will learn in the mission field.

Employers are constantly looking for men and women who are above average, who are a head higher than others. Those who are effective as missionaries and have learned these lessons have less difficulty finding employment and are more likely to be successful in their professions. I think every missionary in the Church ought to be above average. If you take advantage of the lessons you can learn in the mission field, you will be. (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, Clyde J. Williams, ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997, p. 251).

What a wonderful thing it would be if every returned missionary so lived that people would say, "He needs no character recommendation as far as I am concerned." Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if every member of the Church would so live that they could be introduced the same way? (N. Eldon Tanner, Dortmund Germany Area Conference, 7 August 1976, p. 3).

Missionaries, don’t return and settle back into old ways. Now the time’s going to come when your missions will be terminated and you will be given an honorable release. As soon as you come out of the mission field, a new life ahead, it’s going to be a change. . . . You won’t feel at ease at first, coming back into civilian life, because it’s going to be different, different than what you had expected. . . . There’s going to be a question as to whether you are going to keep the enthusiasm for missionary work that you have today. Oh, I’d be disappointed in any elder here who came home . . . and settled back into old ways. (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997, p. 254).

There has never been a time in the history of mankind when we have been better equipped to teach the gospel to our Father in Heaven’s children here on earth. And they seem to need it more today than they ever have. We see a deterioration of faith. We see an increased love for worldliness and a depletion of moral values, both of which will cause increased heartache and despair. What we need is a royal army of returned missionaries reenlisted into service. While they would not wear the badge of a full-time missionary, they could possess the same resolve and determination to bring the light of the gospel to a world struggling to find its way.

I call on you returned missionaries to rededicate yourselves, to become re-infused with the desire and spirit of missionary service. I call on you to look the part, to be the part, and to act the part of a servant of our Father in Heaven. I pray for your renewed determination to proclaim the gospel that you may become more actively engaged in this great work the Lord has called all of us to do. I want to promise you there are great blessings in store for you if you continue to press forward with the zeal you once possessed as a full-time missionary. (L. Tom Perry, “The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, [November 2001]: 75).

You young people have the responsibility to make that same decision. You have an important responsibility in choosing not only whom you will date but also whom you will marry. President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished young people, “Your chances for a happy and lasting marriage will be far greater if you will date those who are active and faithful in the Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 58; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 41).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie counseled, “The most important single thing that any Latter-day Saint ever does in this world is to marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority” (“Agency or Inspiration?” New Era, Jan. 1975, 38; or Eternal Marriage Student Manual [religion 234–235, 2003], 193).

It is essential that you become well acquainted with the person whom you plan to marry, that you can make certain that you are looking down the same pathway, with the same objectives in mind. It is ever so significant that you do this.

I should like to dispel one rumor that is very hard to put to rest. I know of no mission president in all the world who has ever told a missionary that he had the responsibility to marry within six months after his mission. I think that rumor was commenced by a returned missionary, and if not by a returned missionary, by the girlfriend of a returned missionary.

In making the momentous decision concerning whom you will marry—and in making other decisions throughout your life—you have a formula, a guide, to assist you. It is found in the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 8–9:

“You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought.”

That counsel from the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants has guided me, and it will guide you.

Once you make the decision, may you have the courage to move forward. After a stake conference in Tokyo many years ago, a young Japanese convert, perhaps twenty-six years of age, drove Sister Monson and me to the hotel where we were to stay. He was extremely neat and meticulous in all that he did. The car was polished to a brightness seldom seen. He even wore white gloves. I engaged him in conversation and as a result learned that he had a girlfriend who was a member and whom he had dated for some time. I asked him if he loved her. He replied, “Oh, yes, Brother Monson.”

My next question was obvious: “Does she love you?”

“Oh, yes, Brother Monson.”

I then suggested, “Why don’t you ask her to marry you?”

“Oh, I am too shy to ask.”

I then recited, for his benefit, the words of the hymn, “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” with emphasis on the phrase, “Fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake” (Hymns, no. 30).

Some months later I received a lovely letter from my Japanese friend and his new bride. They sent the wedding announcement. They thanked me for my urging and added: “Our favorite hymn is ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints.’ We took fresh courage. God did not forsake us. Thank you.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Life’s Greatest Decisions,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, 7 September 2003).

Marriage is the most important decision after a mission. I think the greatest decision you must make when you come home [home from this mission] is the decision that’s going to shape your life for eternity, and that is your marriage. I’m sure that you would agree with me that this is going to be far more important than anything else you do in life, because your work and your profession or whatever you’re going to do is not nearly as important as eternal values, and you have a decision yet lying ahead of you that’s going to affect you through eternity; it’s going to affect you while you live here upon the earth too, . . . you can’t [afford to] make a mistake, nor can you postpone this decision indefinitely.

I’m always disturbed when a young man says to me, “I don’t have time to think of marriage now because I’ve got the service ahead of me and then I’ve got the rest of my schooling, and I don’t want to get married until I can provide for a family the way they should be provided for.” Now this is . . . just poor thinking when you think that way. (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997, p. 142).

Many years ago I served as a mission president. I had 450 wonderful, dedicated missionaries. When we returned home to Salt Lake City after three years, my dear wife and I were a little surprised one evening as we ran a tally on our missionaries, only to find that there were some sister missionaries who had not as yet found an eternal companion. We determined we would do what we could to help out. I said to Sister Monson, “Frances, let’s plan with a purpose and invite three or four of our lovely sister missionaries to our home. We’ll have an activity where they can tell us who of all the single returned male missionaries they would like to have invited to a little fireside in our home. Then we will show pictures of the mission, and we will arrange the seating so that they can become well acquainted with one another.” This was done, and I might say that the four girls whom we invited eagerly responded to the challenge.

In shoe boxes we maintained individual five-by-seven-inch photographs of every missionary. We had four such boxes, with missionary pictures in each. As those four girls sat around our living room, I said to each of them, “Here is a gift. Thumb through your box of pictures and tell me which of all the pictures represents the young man whom you would most like to have invited to come to this fireside.” My, that was an interesting scene. I think that the only way I could adequately describe it is to ask a question. Have you ever seen children on Christmas morning? We went forward and invited the chosen four young men to join these four young ladies in our home, and we had a glorious evening. At the conclusion of the evening, I noticed two of them slowly walking down our driveway, and I said to Sister Monson, “This looks promising.” They were walking very close together.

It wasn’t long afterward that I received a telephone call from the young man. He said, “President Monson, do you remember that I promised you if I ever fell in love, I would let you know?”

I said, “Yes, sir.”

He continued, “President, I have fallen in love.”

I replied, “Good. With whom?”

He said, “You’ll never guess.”

I was discreet; I didn’t guess. I said, “You tell me.” And he named the sister missionary with whom he walked side by side and hand in hand from our party that evening. They have now been married for 42 years and have five children and many grandchildren.

Some of you within the sound of my voice have already married; others are still seeking that special someone with whom you would want to spend eternity. For those of you in the latter category, in your quest for the man or woman of your dreams, you may well heed the counsel given by King Arthur in the musical Camelot. Faced with a particularly vexing dilemma, King Arthur could well have been speaking to all of us when he declared, “We must not let our passions destroy our dreams (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot, 1960). May you follow this most essential counsel. I urge you to hold fast to your standards. I plead with you not to waver. (Thomas S. Monson, “Decisions Determine Destiny,” Brigham Young University CES Fireside for Young Adults, 6 November 2005).

I know that our young men are under a great obligation to qualify themselves through education to fill positions of responsibility in the world. Their time is precious. But I do not hesitate to promise that the time spent in faithful and devoted service as a missionary, declaring the Master, will only add to their qualifications for positions of responsibility in the future. Regardless of the vocation they choose to pursue, they will be better qualified in their powers of expression, in their habits of industry, in the value they place on training, in the integrity of their lives, and in their recognition of a higher source of strength and power than that which lies within their native capacity. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “He Slumbers Not, nor Sleeps,” Ensign, [May 1983]: 8).

Now may I move to the last decision: What will be my life’s work? I have counseled many returning missionaries who have asked this question. I interviewed seventeen hundred missionaries one year all over the world. My advice to them, and to each one of you young people here this evening and elsewhere throughout the world, is that you should study and prepare for your life’s work in a field that you enjoy, because you are going to spend a good share of your life in that field. It should be one which will challenge your intellect and which will make maximum utilization of your talents and your capabilities. Finally, it should be a field that will supply sufficient remuneration to provide adequately for your companion and your children. (Thomas S. Monson, “Life’s Greatest Decisions,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, 7 September 2003).

You will shed more tears when you leave to go home than you shed when you left home to come here. . . .

What a great love develops in our hearts for the people among whom we serve as missionaries. It was my privilege to serve in the British Isles sixty years ago. I love the people because I worked among them. You have the great privilege here, coming to know these people.

The nation of Argentina once ordered all of our missionaries out and it was a very, very serious thing. I went to Washington to meet with the Argentine Ambassador to the United States. Brother Richard Scott, who was then the mission president in Argentina, came up and met with us. Brother Robert Barker, who had entrĂ©e to many people in Washington, opened the door and we called on the Ambassador. He was as cold as ice. All that we said didn’t touch him. He remained adamant. He wouldn’t give in on any concession. Brother Scott had with him a book showing all of his missionaries, and he handed the book to me. I said, “Mr. Ambassador,” as I opened it, “these are the young men and women that we are talking about. They will come home from your country when they have completed their missions. They will go on to school. They will become people of substance. They will become people of influence. Argentina will never have better friends anywhere in this world than these young men and women who have served in your country as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They will dream of getting married and taking their brides back to Argentina. They may not be able to afford it, but they’ll never get over the idea of going back to Argentina. They will always have a warm place in their hearts for your land and people. I believe that they are blessing your nation, and I believe that they will be your friends forever.”

He said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do.” And miraculously the order was lifted and the missionaries were given their visas and permitted to continue to go there. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Spain Madrid Missionary Meeting, 11 June 1996).

When you go home, you may wish to take some gifts. Everyone likes to shop. I don’t know why. Let me suggest ten gifts to take home with you on the day when you are released from this labor and go back to your loved ones.

1. A knowledge of and love of God our Eternal Father and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). Make that your number-one gift to carry home from the mission field.

2. A knowledge and love for the scriptures, the word of the Lord. You read them. Continue to read them when you get home. Read the Book of Mormon the rest of your life. You will be inspired. You will retain the memories of your mission. And you will prepare yourselves for any opportunities that might come your way.

3. An increased love for parents. You are no longer the careless young men and women you were. You have learned to appreciate and love your parents. Tell them so.

4. A love for the people among whom you labor.

5. An appreciation for hard work. Nothing happens unless we work. You never will plow a field by turning it over in your mind. You have to get out and take hold of the plow and go to work. Work is what makes things happen. You won’t accomplish anything by sitting in your apartments thinking of all the nice people to whom you would like to teach.

6. The assurance that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is available to each of us when we live for it. Listen for the whisperings of the Spirit and follow those whisperings.

7. An understanding of teamwork. You can’t do it alone. Every one of you has a companion. Don’t look for his faults; he has plenty of them. Look for his virtues and try to bring those virtues into your life.

8. The value of personal virtue. There is no room for evil thoughts in your lives while you are here. They will destroy you if you persist in them. Dismiss them. Stay away from them. Pray to the Lord for strength to rise above them.

9. The faith to act.

10. The humility of prayer. There is power greater than any of us that is available to us. The Lord will bless us. He will guide us. He will magnify us. He will lead us to those who will accept the truth. He will protect us if we will listen to the still small voice and follow it.(Gordon B. Hinckley, Guatemala City Central, North, and South Missionary Meeting, 24 January 1997).

Almost a decade ago, I read a letter from a returned missionary who described this process in his life. He had written to thank those who direct missionary work “for daring to send me where the Lord required rather than where I had deemed appropriate.” He had come, he said, “from a background of proud, competitive intellectualism.” Before his mission he was a student at a prestigious university in the eastern United States. Quote:

“I guess out of a sense of obligation and inertia, I filled out my [missionary] papers and sent them in, extremely careful to mark the column indicating greatest desire to serve abroad and in a foreign language. I was careful to make it apparent that I was an accomplished student of Russian and fully capable of spending two years among the Russian people. Confident that no committee could resist such qualifications, I rested confident that I would enjoy a wonderfully mind-expanding cultural adventure.”

He was shocked to receive a call to serve in a mission in the United States. He didn’t know anything about the state where he would serve, except that it was in his own country speaking English rather than abroad speaking the language he had learned, and, as he said, “The people I would work with would likely be academic incompetents.” He continued, “I almost refused to accept the call, feeling that I would be more fulfilled by enlisting in the Peace Corps or something else.”

Fortunately, this proud young man found the courage and faith to accept the call and to follow the direction and counsel of his fine mission president. Then the miracle of spiritual growth began. He described it thus:

“As I began to serve among the uneducated people of [this state], I struggled mightily for several months, but gradually the sweet workings of the Spirit began to tear down the walls of pride and disbelief that had wrapped themselves so tightly around my soul. The miracle of a conversion to Christ began. The sense of the reality of God and the eternal brotherhood of all men came more and more powerfully to my troubled mind.”

It was not easy, he admitted, but with the influence of his great mission president and with his growing love for the people he served, it was possible, and it occurred.
“My desire to love and serve these people who in the ultimate scale were at least my peers, almost definitely my superiors, waxed stronger and stronger. I learned humility for the first time in my life; I learned what it means to make our valuations of others [without relying on the] irrelevant details of life. I began to feel swelling within my heart a love of the spirits that came here to earth with me” (letter to General Authorities, Feb. 1994).

Such is the miracle of service. As the poetess wrote:

But if, by a still, small voice he calls
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I’ll go where you want me to go.
(Hymns, no. 270)
(Dallin H. Oaks, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” Liahona, [November 2002]: 67–70).

What an important day it is in the life of a missionary when he realizes that an honorable release is a commencement! To our fellow missionaries, past and present, we humbly pray you will never allow yourselves the dangerous luxury of self-declaring, "I have given my two years to the Church." If a returned missionary will set his sights high for life, he will generally take the proper steps to get there. A mission can be the happiest two years in a missionary's life if he not only serves his God and fellowmen selflessly, but if he is also walking in truth and preparing himself for eternal progress. (Marvin J. Ashton, What Is Your Destination? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978, p. 3).

I recently met with a group of missionaries who were to be released the next day to return home. They were from various nations across the earth, from Mongolia to Madagascar. They were clean and bright and enthusiastic. They bespoke love for the Church, for their mission president, for their companions. What a marvelous thing is this unique and tremendous program of the Church. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The State of the Church,” Ensign, [November 2003]: 4).