Wednesday, July 9, 2008

2008 Mission Presidents' Seminar

Photo by Gerry Avant
Mike and Gala Dowdle, center, join with new mission presidents and their wives in singing during the annual seminar at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. President Thomas S. Monson spoke in the meeting on June 22.
One hundred and twenty-four mission presidents and their wives attended the Mission Presidents' Seminar at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah on 22 June 2008 until 25 June 2008.  President Thomas S. Monson kicked off the meeting by addressing them in a special sacrament meeting talk.  The Church News staff did an excellent job of summarizing important concepts brought out in the First Presidencies talks.

Photo by Gerry Avant
President Thomas S. Monson
 Gerry Avant of the Church News reported President Thomas S. Monson's Sunday evening remarks:

President Thomas S. Monson said, "The parents of every missionary kneel each day in prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to bless that son or daughter in the mission field. And in that prayer they ask a blessing upon you, for you in effect become a mother and a father to their child. You help determine the destiny of that young man or that young woman. Someone said, 'The power to lead is also the power to mislead, and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.' Let there be positive leading, positive motivation, positive uplift on your part as you inspire your missionaries."

Photo by Gerry Avant
President Thomas S. Monson attends Seminar for New Mission Presidents with his wife, Frances, and daughter, Ann M. Dibb. He addressed new mission leaders and their wives during sacrament meeting on June 22.

The sacrament meeting at which President Monson spoke was held at the Missionary Training Center in Provo in conjunction with the 2008 Seminar for New Mission Presidents. The meeting was attended by President Monson's counselors in the First Presidency, Elder Henry B. Eyring and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve and Quorum of the Seventy. The seminar continued through June 25.

Speaking to mission leaders from a practical standpoint about motivating missionaries, President Monson shared counsel which could be applicable also to stake and district leaders, parents of missionaries and the general membership of the Church.

He encouraged mission presidents to have personal interviews with each missionary upon arrival and at given times throughout their missions. He suggested that the approach to the interviews be similar to that which was recommended many years ago by President Spencer W. Kimball, who said: "When I interview a missionary, I don't say to him, 'Are you doing this wrong? Are you doing that? Do you have this problem or that problem?"'

President Monson said that President Kimball would say, "Tell me what you most admire about your companion."

That, said President Monson, will stop the missionary for a moment. "He starts to think about what he admires most about his companion. Then another question of President Kimball's: 'If you had a little brother 18 years of age preparing for a mission, what would you tell him to do so that he might be a good missionary when he goes out to serve?'

"That sets a positive tone for the interview," said President Monson. "My suggestion is that we provide help —that we love, not scold. 'Show how' is more important than 'tell how' in that kind of a situation. We read from the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 108, verse 7: 'Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings."'

Mission presidents — as well as missionaries and their families — need to know that the Spirit will guide decisions made in carrying out the Lord's work. President Monson illustrated this by relating an experience he had when he presided over the Canadian Mission and was inspired to move one young man from the city of Belleville, Ontario, to Welland, Ontario.

"He wasn't due for a transfer, but the impression came so strongly that I made the transfer. The next week when I received a letter from his companion, tears came to my eyes when I read: 'President Monson, I know you were inspired in sending Elder Smith to us in Welland. We are teaching ten Italian-speaking families whose English skills are limited. In my heart I had been praying for a companion who could speak Italian. You found the only missionary in the mission who spoke Italian.'

"I thought to myself as I read that line, 'I knew nothing about whether or not that boy spoke Italian.' With a name like Smith, you don't think he is going to speak Italian. How did I know that his mother was Italian, and that she had taught the boy to speak in her native tongue? In that way he was able to carry the gospel to those families in Welland. That is just one example."

President Monson said that he does not like to see emphasis placed upon when missionaries become senior companion or if they'll remain a junior companion. "I like more or less to treat the companionships equally, even though we know that one of them is in charge. I would show one above the other on the roster, but I would downplay the idea of who was senior and who was junior in that kind of a situation.

"Always select your outstanding missionaries to introduce the new elders and new sisters to the field. I had a young man, James Arnett, from Price, Utah. He never was a district leader, never was a zone leader, never was an assistant to the president; but if I were to name on one hand my most outstanding missionaries, he would be one. The reason was that he was such an outstanding trainer of new missionaries. I would put an elder with him for a month, then I would give him another new elder, then another, and so on. His influence could be seen in almost every missionary whom he had trained and those who had been trained by those he had trained. You will occasionally find that type of talent. Utilize it when it comes. From the Doctrine and Covenants comes this beautiful passage: 'And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also"' (84:106).

President Monson counseled mission presidents about activities they allow on missionaries' preparation day. He spoke of having met a missionary who had a foot in a cast. President Monson thought perhaps the injury had been sustained in a game of football, baseball or basketball, but learned that the missionary had skateboarded down a cement causeway at about 30 miles an hour and smashed into a cement wall. President Monson said, "It's a shame to teach a young man Portuguese, let's say, and have him wait week after week after week for that visa and then finally get down to Brazil, and then get in a game of touch football, break a leg, then have to go home and lose all of that Portuguese training, all of that motivation — all for a game of football. There are other things missionaries might do on preparation day that could destroy and damage the Spirit. We need to be very careful about what activities are allowed on that day."

Missionaries are to be encouraged to write a letter or e-mail home every week, President Monson said. "I call it the Monson Rule of Proselyting. I like to tell missionaries that it isn't so significant how much you write — just be certain to write....Those letters and e-mails from a missionary son or daughter can bring parents into the Church."

He told of a time when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and met a missionary in Los Angeles who, in the six months he had been serving, had never received a letter from his parents. President Monson encouraged him to continue writing every week, and then said, " I promise you, Elder, that if you continue to send a letter home to your mother and father every week, you will see changes."

President Monson said that he returned to California months later and met again with that missionary, who reached into his pocket and brought out a letter from his mother. It said, "Dear Michael, Thank you so much for your weekly letters. You will be pleased to know that Dad has been ordained a priest, and I am taking the lessons with the missionaries, and Dad is going to baptize me. We have figured out that in one year's time we can come out to Los Angeles with the family when you complete your mission, and we can all go to the Los Angeles Temple together and be sealed for eternity. Keep up the good work. Love, Mother."

The missionary said, "'Elder Monson, the Lord fulfilled your promise.' To which I said, 'The Lord answered your prayer."'

President Monson encouraged mission presidents to work closely with local leaders and members. "There is just no substitute for a member-oriented proselyting program. Tracting will not substitute for it. Golden questions will not substitute for it. A member-oriented program is the key to success. It works wherever we try it. I hesitate to deal in dramatic statements, but let me try one: The greatest single thing you as a mission president can do to increase the effectiveness of your missionaries and their productivity is to ensure that the proper relationship is maintained with the ecclesiastical leaders in the area where they proselyte. I can think of no greater thing that you could do....

"It was President Kimball who said, 'No mission can achieve its full potential without member help.' Then President Kimball said, 'We expect to...involve the members of the Church generally in opening the gospel doors to our Father's other children."'

President Monson spoke of the importance of building "mission spirit." Let each missionary, he said, know that he or she "has been called to the greatest mission in all the Earth."

He said he liked the philosophy of a teacher he once read about. She said, "No one fails in my class. It is my responsibility to help each one succeed."

He said that for years he carried in his wallet a photograph of one of his missionaries, Heber Barzee. President Monson held up an enlarged copy of the photo, and said, "Elder Barzee gave me the picture, and on the back he wrote, 'Dear President Monson, I am happy.' When I would look at that smile, I would say to myself, 'It is my job to motivate and demonstrate and to show every missionary in my mission how to be successful. It isn't my job to scold; it isn't my job to berate or to pressure. My assignment is to show each missionary how to be successful so that he's as happy as Elder Barzee.'

"I think one of the best ways we can do that is to remember that 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,' and if we should labor all our days and bring save it be one soul unto Him, how great shall be our joy with him in the kingdom of our Father. And if we should labor more diligently and bring many souls unto Him, how much greater shall be our joy (see Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 15, 16).

"You may sometimes be tempted to say, 'Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?' I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure the influence for good you will have."

(Gerry Avant, "Positive uplift: The Spirit will guide decisions made in carrying out the Lord's work," Church News, [Saturday, 28 June 2008]: 3).

On Monday, 23 June 2008 President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency addressed the mission presidents and their wives:

Photo by Shaun Stahle
Ancient missionary prophecies are being fulfilled worldwide, says President Henry B. Eyring at annual seminar for new mission presidents.

Speaking of the blessed opportunities and events awaiting new mission presidents and their companions, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said an ancient missionary-themed prophecy is being fulfilled.

Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah envisioned the present day and the Church's missionary efforts: "Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them: and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks" (Jeremiah 16:16).

At the Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 23, President Eyring said that Jeremiah was speaking of the gathering of Heavenly Father's children to His church and kingdom. And he was speaking of missionary work today, and beyond. The fishers and hunters are those involved in taking the gospel to the world. Much of that growth is found in an increase of full-time missionaries. But an increase will also come through rank-and-file members becoming more involved in missionary work.

"The miracle is unfolding slowly before our eyes," President Eyring said.

The Church leader shared an account of one young bishop who met frequently with the full-time missionaries serving in his ward. The bishop learned from the missionaries about the investigators they were teaching. He loved each person who was hearing their message. Enlisting prayer, that bishop pondered the best way to utilize the ward council. Each Sunday felt like a missionary day.

"The bishop sees missionary work as at the heart of his being a minister and a shepherd," President Eyring said.

That bishop would come to know each investigator and their respective needs. Long before their baptism date, the bishop considered their future callings, home teachers and visiting teachers. As much as possible, he ministered to the new members following their baptisms. He tracked their progress.

"He knows that a love of individuals by name always precedes improvement in the numbers of people baptized and those who endure," President Eyring said. "He is guided by a simple rule for holding the hearts of investigators and new members: Give them personal contact early and often.

"You can imagine that in his ward the full-time missionaries get not only referrals but invitations to teach. Every member has an opportunity to love and nurture people being taught and those who are baptized. They have felt the joy of a person who is finding the truth. In time many of the members will themselves have felt the joy of coming into the waters of baptism and being embraced warmly by their fellow citizens in the Kingdom. They will want the same experience for their friends and for every person they meet."

President Eyring spoke of his own experiences as a young man serving as a district missionary in New Mexico, and of the pivotal role that local priesthood leaders played in fellowshipping those that young Brother Eyring and others taught and baptized.

It's natural for new mission presidents to wonder how they can hasten the unleashing of the member missionary power. President Eyring pointed out a few things that won't help. First, don't "nag" the members into missionary duty. And second, don't beg.

"You can build in your missionaries a love of the gospel and of the people," he said. "That love shows when it is deep and genuine. Your missionaries will be trusted when their motive is pure love of the gospel and of people."

President Eyring then reminded the mission presidents and their wives of President Thomas S. Monson's counsel to increase missionary effectiveness.

The "Preach My Gospel" guide to missionary service, he added, also includes several valuable suggestions directed to mission presidents.

President Eyring said the wives of new mission presidents have a special opportunity to give praise and encouragement to the faithful women in wards and branches.

"You know that it is women and girls who issue many of the invitations to friends to be taught by the missionaries," he said. "It is often women, both as leaders and as members, who become the friends and the nurturers of new members."

It has been said that the success of a mission president cannot be judged until "we see the children and grandchildren of his missionaries."

"The likelihood of that success is becoming greater as more members and more bishops become devoted missionaries," President Eyring said. "They will surround your missionaries with examples and influence to lift their hopes and change their choices over a lifetime."

(Jason Swensen,  "Pivotal role held by members in work: Mission presidents can utilize 'member missionary power',"  Church News, [Saturday, 28 June 2008]: 4).

Later in the week Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf the second counselor in the First Presidency spoke to the group:

Photo by Shaun Stahle
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said much is expected of missionaries who have been called of God and have access to great resources of power.

The Savior's call to "Come, follow me" set the standard and gave the priorities for the ministry of all His disciples, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency.

"Therefore," said President Uchtdorf, addressing the 124 newly called mission presidents and their wives during the annual mission presidents seminar, "it is your responsibility to inspire and encourage your missionaries to become more like Him, more Christlike."

President Uchtdorf said "the Lord does not ask us to merely 'try' to live the gospel or, 'give it a good effort.' His standard is higher than that. He asks that we 'bind (ourselves) to act in all holiness before (Him),' promising that 'as (we) do this, glory shall be added to the kingdom which (we) have received' (Doctrine and Covenants 43:9-10, italics added). Therefore, priceless blessings will attend our faithfulness."

Christlike attributes come into individuals' lives as they righteously exercise their agency, avoiding the traps of Satan and holding on to the will of God. "Christlike attributes are gifts from God, and we cannot develop them without His help. The one indispensable gift we all need is offered freely to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the path of true repentance."

President Uchtdorf said the Christlike attribute of humility — willingness to submit to the will of the Lord, and to give unto Him the honor for all that is accomplished — is of critical importance for missionaries. It includes gratitude for blessings and acknowledgment of the constant need for divine help. "Humility is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of spiritual strength."

President Uchtdorf said that missionaries have been called of God and promised great resources of power, and that God has high expectations for them. "You have been called to help them rise to these expectations. Have faith in the promises the Lord has made to you and your missionaries. The Spirit will guide them, and the Spirit will guide you."

Because the Holy Ghost does not dwell in unclean tabernacles, virtue is a prerequisite to receive the guidance of the Spirit, President Uchtdorf said. "Virtue is a Christlike attribute originating in our innermost thoughts and desires. It is a pattern of thoughts and behavior based on high moral standards. Whatever we choose to think and do when we are alone and no one is watching is a strong measure of our virtue."

President Uchtdorf asked the mission presidents and their wives to encourage missionaries to cultivate and enrich their character, through repeated study, learning and work, and to help them not only to know what to do, but also to know and feel with all their heart and mind what they are to be.

"The Christlike attributes of faith and hope are a key part of this process," he said. "They are very powerful and will lead you and your missionaries safely through unknown territories and carry you across deep and fearsome canyons. Those who have faith and hope receive the Lord's promise that He will bear His servants up as on eagle's wings" (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:18).

The life of a missionary is about growing, having faith and hope, about courage and sweet boldness, about acquiring knowledge and skills, about enduring and trusting that God is always there and that He will bear them up as on eagles' wings, President Uchtdorf said.

He spoke of faith as a principle of power and said, "God works by power, but His power is usually exercised in response of faith. And God works according to the faith of His children."

He said that doubt and fear are opposed to faith. "However," he cautioned, "please do not confuse doubt and fear with having questions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the few churches, if not the only church, that invites questions. Your missionaries need to seek, knock and ask to receive answers from the Lord. This is the way the young Prophet Joseph received instructions and answers. They need to study and pray to find answers to their questions. At times, an answer may not appear right away, but as the missionaries continue to work day by day, they receive more light and knowledge. Until then, they walk and work by faith.

President Uchtdorf reminded the mission leaders that "we are not here on our own errand. We are not engaged in a public speaking competition, religious debate or a sales contest. It is our task and solemn responsibility to proclaim the glorious news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to serve worthily so that the Holy Ghost can accompany us and touch the lives of those we come in contact with. As representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, we courageously open our mouths and tirelessly exclaim the truths revealed again through living prophets to the children of our loving Heavenly Father. That is our responsibility, privilege and joy....

"You are on the Lord's errand; it is His work. It is the work of our Father in Heaven. Teach your missionaries to have faith and trust that our Heavenly Father will do His part. Your missionaries need to learn, as did the young man who served Elisha, that unseen hosts attend them and support this wonderful work" (see 2 Kings 6:15-18).

Expressing love and gratitude for missionaries, President Uchtdorf spoke of two missionaries from small rural towns in the United States who served in Germany. They met with rejection as they knocked on doors in a multistory apartment building but, finally, on the fourth floor, at the last door, they were invited in by a widow, mother of two daughters. One of those daughters became President Uchtdorf's wife. President and Sister Uchtdorf's eldest grandsons, twins, recently received their mission calls. "They both have a deep respect and love for the missionaries who came to that fourth floor, last door, in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1954. They have seen only pictures of these missionaries but have never met them in person.

"Now, 54 years later, our grandsons, as newly called elders, have also promised the Lord and His prophet to be missionaries of faith and hope, missionaries of discipline in the work of the Lord, and missionaries who are willing to endure to the end, even to the fourth floor, last door. As grandparents, we pray for their success.

"Please tell your missionaries that the fruits of their labor will reach far beyond their present horizon. Generations to come will be grateful and bless their names for their faithfulness and dedication."

(Gerry Avant, "Christlike attributes critical to missionary work:'You are on the Lord's errand; it is His work'," Church News, [Saturday, 28 June 2008]: 5).

Sarah Jane Weaver of the Church News reported the missionary remarks of Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quourm of the Twelve Apostles delivered on 25 June 2008:

Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
President Boyd K. Packer speaks at the 2008 Seminar for New Mission Presidents in the Provo Missionary Training Center.

The single most important thing about teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bear clear and pure testimony, said President Boyd K. Packer on June 25.

Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Choir of missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center sings during 2008 Seminar for New Mission Presidents June 25. President Boyd K. Packer addressed the congregation.

Speaking at the 2008 Seminar for New Mission Presidents in the Provo Missionary Training Center, President Packer offered counsel and direction to those who will lead some of the Church's vast missionary force currently serving across the globe.

"You are good enough and your testimony is good enough. It will enlarge and be greater," he told the mission presidents and their wives.

President Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, recalled a time years ago when he met a young, disrespectful missionary. The young man had been referred by the Missionary Training Center to President Packer as a member of the Church's Missionary Committee to determine if he should be sent home from his mission.

The young man was a smart aleck and impudent and rude, President Packer thought. He took the young man to lunch.

"There could only be one verdict," President Packer said. "This young man could not go on a mission."

As the pair returned to the Church Office Building, they saw the Missionary Training Center director waiting for them at the top of the stairs.

"I thought, 'When we get up to the top I will have to send him home,' but I thought, 'I can't do that.' About half way up the steps I took hold of this young man and pulled him around so I was looking him right in the eyes. I said, 'You have been disrespectful and impudent and don't deserve much. But there is one thing you have got to know.'

"Then I bore my testimony to him, clear and pure testimony.

"Then I said, 'Now, don't you ever say you don't know or that you haven't been told, because you have been told. I will bear testimony against you at the judgment seat of Christ that you were told.'

"I have never done anything like that before or since."

When President Packer and the missionary got to the top of the stairs, President Packer simply said, "Take him back and try again."

Some months later President Packer heard a report of President Marion G. Romney's weekend visit to Mexico, where he met a missionary who embodied all that is ideal in a missionary. To President Packer's great surprise, it was the missionary he had sent back to the Missionary Training Center.

"And I had learned a lesson. The single most important thing that can be done is to bear testimony to them so that they will know," he said.

President Packer also told the mission presidents and their wives that they have already passed a major test in mortality, by virtue of their being at the conference.

"If the world asked a couple in the prime of their life to go someplace they have never been, speak a language they may or may not know, put their career aside, miss weddings and funerals and grandchildren, would they go?" he said.

"If asked, 'Who could you get to do that?' The answer is probably nobody," he said. "But it is different for you. You were not asked; you were called."

"The Lord," he told the couples, "will watch over you."

President Packer then shared with the congregation a truth taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith: "All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 181).

"The adversary," he said, "only has power over those that permit him to."

"There are things that are ensnared within our lives and it seems so hopeless, but remember: 'Men,' the Book of Mormon says, 'are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil"' (2 Nephi 2:5).

President Packer said he has learned that "nobody is worthless. Nobody in mortality is totally lost."

"So," he explained, "you are on the winning team."

"Now, unfortunately, the scoreboard will always be in the other direction. You will close each inning with them having more numbers on the scoreboard than you do. But you know that ultimately you are on the winning team. The missionaries need to know that. 'All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.' The devil has no power over us."

(Sarah Jane Weaver, "Most important: Bear clear testimony:'You were not asked; you were called,' President Packer tells mission presidents," Church News [Saturday, 28 June 2008]: 6).

One of my good friends from my BYU student days Tim Sloan and his wife were in attendance.  It is always exciting for me to see people I know called to serve as mission presidents.  I really enjoy reading the quotes and advice given to the new mission presidents and their wives by the brethren.  I wonder how many will put up blogs.  I will begin tracking them down in a week or two.  For a review of other mission president seminars please see my earlier post The Mission Presidents' Seminar: A Doctrinal and Historical Bibliographic Review.


S.Faux said...

Dr. B: Thanks for posting these inspiring words. It is fascinating to read about how the Mission Presidents are trained. I have heard about these seminars, but I have never been exposed to this amount of information before.

I know Mission Presidents are ONLY human, but the words they received from the First Presidency are the pure gold standard.

Dr. B said...

You are right about that. When I took an ethnography course on my doctorate I didn't understand the leadership culture of the LDS Church being an elder still at the age of 37. My professor told me that I since I wasn't part of the culture that I could do a study of an LDS stake president. The Indianapolis Stake President lived in Muncie where I was going to school at Ball State University. I didn't know the man at all but despite being busy he agreed to let me interview him for a few weeks during his two hour drive back and forth on Thursday night high council meetings. He describe to me everything he did from discipline to administration of the stake to setting up stake conferences. I had no clue the inner workings of a stake never having served in that capacity. It is similar with a mission president. Unbelievably they are called with no clue other than having served as a missionary or seen them from a distance. That is why I set up my blog so I could discuss and unravel this little known group. It makes it better for those going to read the mission president seminars or read the blog of a current serving mission president. Some people think they don't need any training but I disagree. As a doctorinal student when I took statistics my professor would say most statistical surveys only get about a twenty to thirty percent return of the group you are studying. That twenty or thirty percent is better than guessing what happens to that group because when you don't examine it you are only guessing at what they do. Hence the rational for my blog to see what missionaries, mission presidents, and general authorities do about missionary work. I am still looking for a mission president to send me submissions.

Clean Cut said...

That sounds like a fascinating "job shadow" of a stake president--eye-opening I'm sure. I always wanted to do that with the President of the Church!

About the Mission Presidents seminar--I just can't get enough of this First Presidency. I enjoyed the write ups in the Church News but I was surprised that I felt disappointed that I couldn't have more! I'm really finding my understanding, love, and respect for President Monson growing.