Thursday, February 21, 2008

Putting the Work Back Into Missionary Work

In a recent missionary post on Mormon Matters a blogger who said some good things about sharing the gospel said he didn't like the term missionary work which got me to thinking what the term really means. With a little research I wrote this response. The effectiveness of missionary work varies among missionaries. Sometimes they are highly motivated and produce a great deal of work in terms of finding and teaching people. Other times they waste a lot of precious time and don't get a lot accomplished. One thing for sure is if they don't leave their apartments they aren't going to accomplish a lot. Missionary service is a hard back-breaking tedious task that takes persistence and perseverance.

My favorite quote on working is by President Spencer W. Kimball who admonishes mission presidents: "You are not going to overwork your missionaries. There are few missionaries, if ever any, that have been destroyed by overwork. They have been destroyed by over worry and too little work and by immoralities and other things, but generally not by overwork. (Spencer W. Kimball, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 20 June 1975, p. 5)."

Gordon B. Hinckley on April 5, 1985 told the Regional Representatives' Seminar: "The young man who goes into the world preaching the gospel of peace loses himself and saves himself. Missionary work is one of the great miracles of our time. A transformation comes into the lives of boys. Under the leadership of good mission presidents, they subject themselves to the discipline of the mission field, and that in itself becomes a remarkable blessing. They establish habits of work. They discover the values of life that are most important. They develop in their hearts a fervent testimony that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. They develop a new and wonderful sense of the meaning of the priesthood. The future of the Church will be so much the stronger by reason of the missionary service of our young men because of the tremendous strength with which they will return to carry out their activities in life, including service in the Church. A mission is not an expense. It is a great investment. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 5, 1985).

In 1993 F. David Stanley of the Seventy put work in to perspective for missionaries: "While serving as a mission president, many times missionaries would say to me, “But President, I want baptisms now.”

My answer was then and always will be, “You must work hard, be diligent, be humble, and exercise your prayers of faith.”

Young men, are you spending too much time desiring what you want to be instead of establishing a course of discipline and working hard on what you are going to be? Sitting in a home one night with two of our missionaries, the challenge was issued to a young investigator to begin reading the Book of Mormon. His answer overwhelmed us as he sat in his recliner sipping from a twelve-ounce container from the corner convenience store. He said, “It’s too hard.”

Someone once said, “Thou, O God, [doth give us] all good things at the price of labor.” (David Hume, Human News; as cited in The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases, sel. Burton Stevenson, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1948], p. 1331.)

This young man had felt the Spirit; but, alas, the seed was sown on stony ground, and he was not willing to work hard and pay the price to gain his individual testimony. We feared that evening that he may have made a decision that could jeopardize his eternal life by the statement, “It’s too hard.”

Among the saddest events for all mission presidents to observe elders and sisters coming into the mission field not having learned how to work. President Ezra Taft Benson gave us a powerful key in one of his addresses on missionary work: “One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for [he will have] all [his] time and talents and interest … centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 200.)

There you have it, fathers and trainers of future missionaries. There you have it, my young friends who are now preparing for your missions and you who are currently serving. If you want to be successful, start with the bottom line of work. Recently we noticed a surge in baptisms in one of our missions. The mission president was asked the reason for the surge. He said, “Baptisms come from hard work. We must work smarter and much harder.”

The prophet Alma said it very well while glorying in the success of Ammon and his brethren. He said, “Behold, they have labored exceedingly.” (Alma 29:15.)

That is a pure definition of work."

Robert L. Backman of the Seventy said: "Do you recognize how few opportunities in the past we have given our youth to take responsibilities? I served as a mission president. I don’t think any other former or present mission president would disagree with me when I say that one of the chief concerns we have when young men and young women come into the mission field is that too few of them have ever learned what it means to take responsibility. This society of ours cripples us in teaching our youth to take responsibility. They can’t take jobs. It is against the law. There aren’t enough daily chores to keep a boy or a girl busy, so something else must be evolved to take the place of them. All too often nothing has, and so our young people grow up being spectators instead of participators in the gospel of Jesus Christ."

President Gordon B. Hinckley in the New Era Special Missionary issue said: "Every missionary ought to come to realize that work, work, work is the key to getting things done, the key to success in life. There is no substitute for work, for getting up in the morning and getting at it and staying with it to get the job done. I don’t know of a greater asset for whatever lies ahead in life than the capacity to discipline oneself to work."

He also said: "No one can do this work alone. We work in pairs. “In the mouth of two or more witnesses shall [all things] be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). We work together. There is no place for prima donnas in the mission field. Our efforts are largely team efforts, and what a marvelous thing it is to learn to work with other people."

In the same issue, M. Russell Ballard stresses the importance of learning to work even before a mission: "Prospective missionaries need to learn to work. They ought to have a job and save money for their missions. Every mission president would concur with me that the missionary who has worked and saved and helped pay for part or all of his or her mission is a better-prepared missionary. Working and saving for a mission generates enthusiasm for serving and gives a young man or a young woman a good work ethic. Whatever else missionary work is, it is work!

Working toward a mission and being accountable for their own lives helps young men and young women emotionally as well. They know within themselves that they can succeed no matter where they are sent and no matter the circumstances. They know they are tough enough to handle anything in a world that is becoming less interested in the things of God. We need missionaries with that kind of self-assurance."

The best counsel for overcoming discouragement on a mission is to work. President Gordon B. Hinckley learned this lesson himself while on a mission to Great Britain: "Those first few weeks I was discouraged. I wrote a letter home to my good father and said that I felt I was wasting my time and his money. He wrote a very short letter to me which said: “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.” Earlier that morning my companion and I had read these words of the Lord: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).

Those words of the Master, followed by my father’s letter, went into my very being. I went into our bedroom and got on my knees and made a pledge to the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service.

That July day in 1933 was my day of decision. A new light came into my life and a new joy into my heart. The fog of England seemed to lift, and I saw the sunlight. I had a rich and wonderful mission experience, for which I shall ever be grateful."

Dallin H. Oaks relates the following about the production of their work: "“None of us should be like the fisherman who thinks he has been fishing all day when in reality he has spent most of his time getting to and from the water, eating lunch, and fussing with his equipment. Fishing success is related to how long you have your line in the water, not to how long you are away from the apartment.

Some fishermen are away from home for twelve hours and have their line in the
water for ten hours. Other fishermen are away from home for twelve hours and
have their line in the water for only two hours. This last type may wonder why
they do not have the same success as others.

“The same principle applies to missionaries, whom the Master called ‘fishers of
men.’ A missionary’s line should drop into the fishing water the moment he or
she leaves the apartment." (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 152).

A couple of interesting ideas are stressed in Preach My Gospel. One,"Accept full responsibility for your efforts. Never blame others for difficult circumstances or lack of progress. Second, "Be motivated to do your best work."

Missionaries need to realize whose work they are doing. "Missionary work is God’s work. Missionaries are but His messengers, His ambassadors. They must deliver His message to the world. That does not mean that they need no preparation. An ambassador from one nation to another needs a great deal of training to fill that position efficiently and worthily. The ambassadors of our Lord need more preparation than any representative of a mere worldly kingdom. It is a missionary’s duty to “get an understanding of the gospel, and teach it, as the Spirit directs”; but to get an understanding of the gospel, he must both study it and practice it. That is his preparation. When he is thus prepared, the Spirit will direct his utterance." (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne Sjodahl, The Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974, p. 632).

In missionary work missionaries realize that not everybody is mean and will reject them. President Gordon B. Hinckley says: "Missionary work is concerned with searching and winnowing and gleaning and teaching with love and kindness. Every missionary ought to come to realize that the world is full of beautiful, wonderful people.

Of course there are rascals. There are a lot of them around and they are meddlesome and nasty. But there are more of the good than the bad. Our mission is to find the good and make them better and teach the bad when we find them and make them good." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Mission Presidents’ Seminar: Apostles Counsel Embarking Leaders," Church News, [2 July 1994]: 5).

Orson F Whitney gives young missionaries good advice: "When I was a young missionary in the state of Ohio, I received a letter from President Brigham Young, containing these golden words: "Never condescend to argue with the wicked. The principles of the gospel are too sacred to be quarreled over. Bear your testimony in humility, and leave the result with the Lord."

That is all we can do. This is God's work, not man's, and he is doing it in his own way, and using men and women as his instruments. No man can say, of any part of the Lord's work, "I did it." No flesh can glory in his presence. The missionary does his whole duty when he bears a faithful testimony by tongue or pen, by word and deed, and leaves the rest with the Lord. (Orson F. Whitney, Improvement Era, 13 [September 1910]: 1020).

Missionaries know that missionary work is not easy. Howard W. Hunter equates it to plowing a field: "Sowing of seed is important; otherwise, there would be no harvest, and as stated in the Lord's parable of the sower, there must be good ground to bring forth a good harvest. Plowing must have been done before the sowing or there would have been no seedbed.

Of all the work of the field, plow-work is the heaviest labor. It is primary and fundamental--it is pioneer toil. A seed may be dropped anywhere, and there is no resistance, but put the blade of the plow into the ground and a thousand forces join to oppose the change. To disturb the conventional, to overturn the traditional, or to attempt to make changes in the deep-rooted way of doing things in the lives of individuals, requires toil and sweat. The heaviest work in the kingdom of God is to turn the hard surface of the earth which has been baked in the sun or covered by the growth of nature. What a change comes over land which has been cleared and plowed, row after row of evenly spaced furrows, the subsurface loosened and exposed to the sun and air and the rains from heaven, ready to be broken up and planted to seed. the wilderness is conquered and subdued.

Those who became disciples of the Master and put their hands to the plow without turning back proved themselves to be worthy plowmen. By turning over the old surfaces of tradition, they prepared the fields for the introduction and the spread of Christianity into the world.

We do not need to go back to the time of Christ, however, to find fields to plow. Fields exist today all over the world, and missionaries have been called and have put their hands to the plow. Furrows are being cut and seeds planted, and every day we see the results of the harvest. (Howard W. Hunter quoted in Albert L. Zobell, Notes to Quote, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 84-85).

Gordon B. Hinckley agrees: "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." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Guatemala City Central, North, and South Missionary Meeting, 24 January 1997).

Ezra Taft Benson tells us about putting the work back into missionary work: "One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work. If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people, and he will be happy. Then there will be no homesickness nor worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work,--there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work." (Ezra Taft Benson, Come Unto Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983, p. 97).

In 1991 President Benson expanded the concept: "There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of work, that we have done our best.

I have often said that one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.

We must not give Satan an opportunity to discourage us. Here again, work is the answer. Missionary work brings joy, optimism, and happiness. The Lord has given us a key by which we can overcome discouragement:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30; italics added).

In the Savior’s time, the purpose of a yoke was to get oxen pulling together in a united effort. Our Savior has a great cause to move forward. He has asked all of us to be equally yoked together to move His cause forward. It requires not only a united effort; it requires complete dependence on Him. As He said to His early Apostles, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Our work will be light and easy to bear if we will depend on the Lord and work.

Don’t worry about being successful. We are going to be successful—there is no doubt about it. The Lord has sent us to earth at the time of harvest. He does not expect us to fail. He has called no one to this work to fail. He expects us to succeed. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 113)."

The 1937 Missionary Handbook says: "The busy elder is the happy elder. Time is his most valuable asset, and he uses it judiciously. He well knows that at best the hours and days slip by far too rapidly for the accomplishment of all he wishes to do.

He regards his missionary work as successful men regard their daily work. Time for getting up in the morning, eating, going to and from work, and activities in various organizations is necessary, but it does not count as part of the day's work. He realizes that effective missionary work requires a full day of missionary activity. He knows that the moments are golden, that they are consecrated, and that his responsibility is great in the use he makes of them." ("Money, Time, and Talent, "The Missionary's Handbook, Independence, Missouri: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1937, p. 30).

James E. Faust
in the Liahona in 2007 tells missionaries: "To be called to serve as a missionary for this Church is not a right but a privilege. Missionary service is joyful, but it is not fun and games; it is hard work. The Lord’s admonition to missionaries is contained in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day” (v. 2)."

I like what Elder Marvin J. Ashton says about the desire of missionaries to do the work: "As we have experienced harassment, destruction, vandalism, and even the loss of lives, the attitude of our missionaries is not one of being afraid but of marching forward in a spirit of "carry on." Few, if any, have asked for releases or transfers as the winds of fire, destruction, and danger have blown in their paths. It is a joy to see them stand firm as the mountains around us. God will continue to help them carry on, and their work will not be thwarted but will be enhanced and fruitful."

I remember how as missionaries in the Rome Italy Mission we would recite section Four of the Doctrine and Covenants every morning about a marvelous work about to come forth among the children of men. Followed by a chant like in a football huddle. All six of us that shared an apartment in Ragusa, Sicily at Via Giovanni Meli 1/11 would circle around in our foyer and chant as we put our hands on top of each other pumping them up and down "Let's go out and really go just like Parley Brig and Joe." Then we break the huddle and go down the elevator and out on to the streets to serve the Lord.

Neal A. Maxwell puts work in to the proper perspective for us: "We need to know how to work for another reason: even our Heavenly Father’s work is really work! There won’t be any lazy people in heaven. They would not be happy there anyway, because there will always be so much to do.

If we learn to work now, we will not only be happier in this world but in the world to come, for work is one way we can show our love for others."

The most satisfying thing that a missionary can do is to get out and do some work. Find to teach and teach to find. Things can't happen when serving the Lord if you don't put the work back into missionary service and get out there. On a mission you need to work hard. Time flies when you work hard and the results are worth it. So get up and get out there. We need to put the work back in to missionary work.

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