Sunday, February 10, 2008

Joy in Serving an LDS Mission

A great many missionaries like to joke about their missions. Many say those were the two best years of my life. If you ask them if that was really true. They admit that their mission was hard but they wouldn't trade it for anything and that it gave them a sense of accomplishment. Many of them had a great time with relatively few problems. Another part of them had problems but felt the overall experience was worthwhile. A small group will tell you those were the best damn years of their life and talk to you about negative things and how they wished they never went. My own mission was a mix of both positive and negative. There were times when I felt a great feeling of love for companions, my mission president, and my investigators. Having had eight children I have experienced joy on a few rare occasions particularly at their birth. My mission was hard but when it was completed it has shaped me in to the person I am today. There were a few special moments of joy on my mission when a few of my investigators were baptized.

My mission impacted me so much that I blog daily about issues, concepts, programs, and people. When a return missionary describes how they had joy on a mission what does that mean?

The Lord said, “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father.” [D&C 18:15.]

Heber J. Grant described missionary joy this way: "I feel sorry for the man or the woman who has never experienced the sweet joy which comes to the missionary who proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ, who brings honest souls to a knowledge of the truth, and who hears the expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving that come from the hearts of those who have been brought by his labor to a comprehension of life eternal. So also do I feel sorrow for those who have never experienced the sweet joy resulting from reaching out their hands and helping those who were needy. Assuredly there is more blessing [that] comes to us from giving than in accumulating; there is no question of this in my mind. There is also more blessing [that] comes to us in going forth to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and laboring for the salvation of the souls of men, than can possibly come to us by merely having a knowledge of the truth of our religion, and then remaining at home to mingle and labor in the ordinary affairs of life, and accumulate the wealth of this world that perishes with the using. One great trouble is that we ofttimes lose sight of what is the most valuable labor for us to perform, the labor that will be most pleasing in the sight of our Heavenly Father. (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,1941, p. 104).

In 2005 Barbara Workman whose husband served in the MTC presidency defined joy in missionary service as, "Lehi said, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Missionaries are, that they might share joy. The quest for joy in mortality began with Adam and Eve. They chose sorrow and death so they could also choose joy and exaltation. Eve said to Adam, “Were it not for our transgression we … never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). Our Savior’s Atonement was a choice for joy. Not long after Gethsemane He gathered the little children on the American continent around Him, blessed them, prayed for them, and invited angels to encircle them. Observing the faith of the people, He said, “My joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20). He had come from the ultimate agony in Jerusalem to a fulness of joy in the Americas. We will never know His agony, but He chose to accomplish the Atonement so we could eventually experience a fulness of joy.

Joy is an emotion of the spirit. It comes through righteous living. It is not a casual or shallow feeling, ever. If we equate fun and pleasure with happiness, we may think pain must always be equated with unhappiness. But that is not true. Joy is not a stranger to pain. We may not feel deeply enough to know joy unless our hearts have been hollowed out by sorrow. A heart may not be big enough to know real joy until it has been stretched and pulled by trials and hard things. In 2 Nephi 2:23 [2 Ne. 2:23] we find this phrase: “having no joy, for they knew no misery.” Our capacity to feel joy actually increases as we righteously endure our pain.

As missionaries go out to serve, they taste the same mixture of emotions almost every day. The deeper their joy in the message and the more intense their desire to share it, the greater their sorrow when it is rejected. Often when the scriptures talk about joy and sorrow, they are referring to missionary work. In Alma 28:8 we read, “And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy.” These four terms often describe a mission: sufferings, sorrows, afflictions, and incomprehensible joy.

If a missionary has had a largely pain-free existence to this point, perhaps the experience of deep joy still lies ahead. One missionary who described pre-mission life as being pretty easy told about teaching a discussion in which the whole family, especially the father, was very responsive. Afterward, as he and his companion pedaled their bicycles toward their apartment, he thought: 'So this is what joy feels like. I guess I’ve never known until now.'"

Sister Workman listed several ways a missionary does and doesn't have joy. Here is the list for having joy:

Joy is learning to “make friends with mortality.”

Joy is about faith in the cause of Christ.

Joy comes from being trusted.

Joy comes from seeing the fruits of your labor.

Joy is about overcoming.

Joy comes from teaching the plan.

Joy comes from building the kingdom.

Ultimately, joy is in Jesus Christ.

Here is her list for not having joy:

Joy is not about having things.

Joy is not about being in the limelight. It is about changing lives, one at a time.

Joy is not about looks or personality or a fluent tongue.

Joy is not about leadership positions.

In 1999 Joseph B. Wirthlin gave an excellent missionary talk about his mission in Hitler occupied Austria that lasted for 30 months. He tells of his despondency of being left for six weeks without a companion due to the shortage of missionaries. When he gets a companion he talks about a defining moment in his life when they discussed their life goals under a starlit sky on the way to a little church in Oberdorf where Silent Night was written. When he looked back over his life he summarized it as: "Six decades have intervened since that Christmas Eve in Oberndorf when I made those resolutions. Much has happened in the intervening years. My premonitions about playing football were right; I never played again. But I did graduate from the university. Even so, I’ve never regretted serving a mission and committing myself to serving the Lord. By doing so, my life has been filled with adventure, spiritual experiences, and joy that surpasses understanding."

Elder Wirthlin further stated that we must "enjoy the journey." "The people of God are a joyful people. We understand there are times for sobriety, reverence, and devotion; we also understand that we possess the joyful principles of eternal life. We have so much to smile about, be happy about, yes, even to laugh about."

George Albert Smith in Sayings of a Saint said: "As I have traveled to and fro in the world bearing this message, my soul has been filled with joy, and my eyes have been dimmed with tears, when I have seen how perfectly men’s lives may be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen how those who were discouraged, those who were in darkness, those who questioned the purpose of their being, and when they have had taught to them the glorious truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have changed, they have learned to be happy, to be contented, to be satisfied, to be enthusiastic in believing and teaching the gospel that was proclaimed by Jesus Christ when he dwelt upon this earth and traveled in Galilee.

Brethren and sisters, the world does not understand that, but it is our mission to assist them to understand it, and it is not with egotism, it is not with arrogance, but with charity for all, with loving tenderness, that his message is sent forth."

Heber J. Grant in 1936 in the Improvement Era said his greatest joy comes from missionary work: "In all my labors I got nearer to the Lord, and accomplished more, and had more joy while in the mission field than ever before or since. Man is that he may have joy, and the joy that I had in the mission field was superior to any I have ever experienced elsewhere. Get it into your hearts, young people, to prepare yourselves to go out into the world where you can get on your knees and draw nearer to the Lord than in any other labor."

Gordon B. Hinckley in 2000 April Conference talked about "getting on our knees and praying for the opportunity of bringing joy into the lives of others." In his recent February 2008 Ensign article Henry D. Eyring in "Feeding His Lambs" said: "The Saints of God have always been under covenant to nourish each other spiritually, especially those tender in the gospel. We are blessed to live in a time when a great increase in that capacity to nourish new members of the Church must and therefore will be poured out upon the faithful Saints." The greatest joy we can have is helping saving our Heavenly Father's children.

Rudger Clawson puts a different twist on the joy of bringing one soul in to the kingdom of God: "And how are we to determine the value of souls? This matter has been determined for us also by revelation. The souls of men are so precious in the sight of God that He gave to the world His Only Begotten Son, that by the shedding of His blood He might draw all men unto Him. That is why the great Prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith, and these others, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and the rest, were called to bring souls unto Christ. And if one of these men should labor all his days, and bring save it be one soul unto Christ, and that one should be his wife, what great joy he would have with his wife in heaven. Then if he should labor all his days, and bring unto Christ the souls of his wife and his children, and one else perchance, how great would be his joy in heaven with his wife and children" (Rudger Clawson, Conference Report, 7 April 1901, pp. 7-8).

Spencer W. Kimball talks about the joy of sharing the gospel with others: "With the opportunities all around us, why should we fear? The gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation. All people need it in their lives. The gospel will make new people out of them. It changes and transforms their lives as they live it. People who receive the gospel deeply into their hearts are not the same. They change. And to every person, family, nation, and people which open its heart or borders to the gospel will come unbelievable blessings. There will come joy and peace to all recipients, and eternal life to those who accept and magnify gospel teachings. (Spencer W. Kimball, "Are We Doing All We Can?" Ensign, [February 1983]: 4).

Matthew Cowley describes the benefits of a mission: "I tell you . . . if you want to have something come into your lives that will fill you with faith through all eternity, get into this missionary work and get the spirit of it, and joy will come into your heart. (Matthew Cowley, Matthew Cowley Speaks, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954, p. 412).

LeGrand Richards shares how much a mission means to missionaries:
"I think every young man should aspire to fill a mission. When we hold meetings with the missionaries in the mission field, where many tears of joy are shed, missionaries often express themselves in words like these: “When we were home, we heard returned missionaries report their missions and say that this period had been the happiest time of their lives, and we didn’t believe a word of it—but now we understand.”

A young man from the East stopped in my office on his return from his mission in Argentina, where he spent an extra six months helping the missionaries learn the language. Calling him by name, for I knew him and his parents before he left for his mission, I said: “Do you feel that it was a waste of time for you to go on that mission—that you should have been completing your education and getting ready for marriage?”

He replied: “If the brethren would like to make me happy, just let them load me on a plane tomorrow morning and send me back to Argentina.” And he hadn’t yet seen his loved ones whom he had left at home.

I met a young missionary in the Northwest who had served in the military prior to his call. Knowing that this meant delaying his education and employment, I asked him about it. He said: “There is no corporation or organization in the world that could pay me enough to get me to leave my mission.”

A missionary in Holland, after performing a baptismal service for five adults, said to me: “When I was home, I had a good job and I could go to a show or a dance whenever I wanted to. But I wouldn’t exchange an experience such as this for all the shows or dances in the world.”

A short time ago I toured with the president of the Alaska-British Columbia Mission. His daughter in high school had been successful in converting one of her chums, so she told her father she wanted to spend her summer vacation in the mission field. He sent her up to Anchorage to labor with a lady missionary, and he and I were there to attend a baptismal service when eleven people were baptized. Nine of them were the converts of this girl and her companion. The daughter came up to me with tears running down her cheeks and said, “Oh, Brother Richards, I have never been so happy in all my life.”

While in Oregon I heard a missionary give his mission report. A convert to the Church, he said, “I wouldn’t take a check for a million dollars for the experience of my mission.” I sat behind him and I said to myself, “Would you take a million dollars for your mission over in the little land of Holland?” I began counting the families that I had been successful, with the Lord’s help, in bringing into his church, and then I realized that I wouldn’t sell them out of the Church for all the money in this world.

While I was serving years ago as president of the Southern States Mission, in one of our public meetings one of our missionaries, a young man who stood 6′ 3″ and had played on a championship basketball team, said that when his team won the championship game, their companions literally carried them around on their shoulders. Then he said: “That was the greatest experience of my life until I came into the mission field. I wouldn’t exchange a night like this, bearing testimony of the restoration of the gospel, for all the basketball games I have ever played.”

One of my grandsons filled a mission in Australia. I copied a paragraph from one of his letters: “Things are really tremendous down here—I can honestly say I have never been so thrilled and excited and happy in all my life! The Lord is really blessing me.” Such a testimony is more meaningful when you realize that before he went on his mission he was the junior high school boy of the month; was student body president of his junior high school; was selected as Mr. Football and as best athlete in his class at the high school; was captain of the football and basketball team; and was a member of a championship all-Church basketball team.

Only the Lord puts such feelings as these that I’ve described into the hearts of the missionaries." (LeGrand Richards, “Every Young Man Should Aspire to Fill a Mission,” New Era, [September 1971]: 4).

I can honestly say that my mission was the best two years of my life. It shaped me in to who I am today. The relationships I made then have lasted a lifetime and I expect will carry on through the eternities. Were they the best years in terms of what I accomplished? No. Were they the best years in terms of how much I grew developmentally? Yes. Was your mission a joyful time? Even though mine was tough I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy for those I helped join come in to the Lord's Church.

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