Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Above All Else Let Us Think Straight

When I was a missionary in the Toronto Canada Mission my mission president M. Russell Ballard used to talk to us in zone conferences about the importance of missionary work. The goal of every mission president is to get their missionaries to use their time wisely and effectively to teach, testify and bring souls to Christ.

I can still remember on at least three zone conferences when he shared with us some counsel. He even told us that he was giving us counsel. One one occasion he stood up and said "He wished he had a magic wand so he could tap each missionary with it. So that you could wake up."

He then would quoted to us 2 Nephi 1: 13, 23

13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.

23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

He would tell us that we were in a deep sleep and that we needed to break out of Satan's grasp so that the work could go forward in Ontario and Canada.

He liked to use his grandfather Melvin J. Ballard as a talking point. One of his favorite stories was to tell us Melvin J. Ballard's death bed experience which illustrates how to be an effective missionary. Elder Ballard shared that experience in a 29 November 1983 BYU devotional six years after his mission:

In my office I have a little plaque that reads, "Above all else, brethren, let us think straight." These were the last words in mortality spoken by my grandfather Melvin J. Ballard. As I understand the circumstance, Grandfather, after the very grueling experience of preaching the gospel all through the eastern part of the United States, drove his car from New York to Salt Lake City. When he came into the driveway of his home at 80 North Wolcott Avenue in Salt Lake City, he collapsed. He was rushed to the LDS hospital, where he was found to have acute leukemia. He never came out of the hospital. He went in and out of a coma. As I have had it told to me by my father, who was there, Grandfather pushed himself up in bed, looked into his hospital room as though he were addressing a congregation or a group, and said clearly, "And above all else, brethren, let us think straight." Then he died. I don't go into my office any day of the week that I don't see those words, and I find that they help me a great deal.

He would then tell us that as missionaries we needed to think straight. He told us as straight thinking missionaries we would put away foolishness such as worldly distractions like thinking about girl friends or home or goofing off. Instead we would put our mind, heart and souls on bringing to pass righteousness. Translated that means we were to get to work and teach and baptize. We were sent on missions to be hunters and fishers of the elect of God.

I believed every word the man said. I would come away motivated to bring more people in to the Church. On a different occasion he told us that we were like wind up toys. When he would speak to us we could sustain our efforts for a few days or a couple of weeks but most of us missionaries couldn't keep it up for the five or six weeks between zone conferences.

When he would give us the "talk." I would do what Elder Ballard suggested and "brainstorm" with my companion. We used a method called brainstorming in the CTM. Wikipedia gives a good description of it but doesn't see much value other than as a team building exercise. Mind Tools is a little more complimentary of the process:

Brainstorming is a useful and popular tool that you can use to develop highly creative solutions to a problem.

It is particularly helpful when you need to break out of stale, established patterns of thinking, so that you can develop new ways of looking at things. This can be when you need to develop new opportunities, where you want to improve the service that you offer, or when existing approaches just aren't giving you the results you want.

We used it in the CTM as a way of coming up with fresh ideas for finding and teaching people. I think it had limited success but it reminded us to try different ways of proseltying. Elder Ballard coming from a business perspective used it in his businesses. I think the reason we didn't see as much success with it was that we only heard it described and not modeled. Also many of us were too lazy to even read the handouts.

I only had one companion who used it and that was Elder Lodholm. As a junior companion I seldomly did anything other than what I was told and none of my companions ever took out the handout and discussed it. Being a convert I usually practiced mindless obedience since I didn't know any better than that since I was only a member one year and didn't know jack about missionary work let alone the cultural mores of the church. Elder Ballard beat it in to our heads that we needed to be united and good leaders would follow their brethren. I learned that we don't have to like them just follow them.

There are some that would question my quality of obedience because I slept in on occasion and didn't master the discussions one hundred percent word perfect. But the truth is I followed my companions around like a lap dog. I spoke when called on and gave my limited concepts that I knew. As a junior companion for almost two years I prayed for them and lent my support whenever possible. I was never pressed too hard and usually was called on to bear testimony, to pray or to support what my companion said. I never contradicted them even when a few times they said things that just weren't true. Being a junior companion for two years prepared me for future church callings were men with limited gospel mastery who had never served missions would be my leaders. I learned discipleship.
I know that Elder Ballard was just trying to get us to focus on the missionary work. Missionaries get easily distracted. I think that is why he would tell us not only to think straight but to work smarter not harder. I will address the latter in my next post.


Tim Malone said...

You essay on Elder Ballard and thinking straight and especially your comments about being a junior companion brought to mind an incident early in my mission, where I learned that being a junior companion does not always mean submissive support, but that our thoughtful contributions are needed for success of the work:

La Colonia Kennedy in Tegucigalpa had been worked over for many, many years before we got there in 1976. It was a world of dirt roads an no cars back then. Yet the field was still white and ready to harvest. My first companion, Elder Webb had lined up a half dozen baptisms the first few weeks I was there.

We taught at least three or four discussions on my very first day and every day thereafter. I think we baptized a dozen or more in the six short weeks we were together. Obviously Elder Webb was a hard worker and trying to do what the Lord wanted. Being a senior companion can be hard, but I didn’t know anything about that.

One day we were tracting and came to a corner, wondering what to do next. Elder Webb looked at me and asked, "What do you think we should do, Elder Malone?" Up until that moment my focus had been on memorizing the discussions and conjugating verbs.

It was all I could do to keep up with Elder Webb, especially since he seemed so fluent in Spanish and I was still struggling with the language so much. I said, "I don’t know. You’re the senior companion. You tell me."

I don’t think I could have hurt him more if I had cut him with a knife. Poor guy! He was exercising so much faith and working so hard to make sure that I had a good start to my mission and I couldn’t see that he could have used a friend at that moment.

Patiently, but with some emotion betrayed in his voice, Elder Webb chastised me for not responding favorably to his request to share the burden of leadership. I was surprised by his lecture and listened closely, apologizing when he was through.

"No problem," he said and shrugged it off. He smiled and we went on our way, down the next row of close-packed houses that I remember so well in the Kennedy. But I continued to think about what he said and just for a moment, as I did, the spirit touched the eyes of my understanding and I saw Elder Webb in a different light.

From then on I did everything I could to be his friend and show him that we were on the same team. He seemed to mellow a bit after that and I noticed an increase in the spirit of our teaching and the tenor of our prayers.

I later learned to appreciate what a great companion Elder Webb was as I gained experience in the mission and was able to compare him to other companions who didn’t work as hard and to a junior companion who gave me the same treatment once that I gave to him.

I can say without a doubt that Elder Webb was the hardest working companion I had and exactly the kind of first senior comp I needed to get my mission started off right. He taught me to think straight with one simple question, "What do you think we should do, Elder Malone?" I have been forever grateful.

He taught me to think straight and not be just a mindless, yet submissive missionary. I have been able to use this lesson many times over the years as I served in similar situations with bishops who were called because of their faithfulness and humility but could use some straight thinking from their counselors. "What do you think?" might be the smartest words a bishop can ask those who are called to assist him.

Dr. B said...


That was an excellent post.