Monday, August 18, 2008

Mission President Styles

I had a couple of elders over from the Columbia South Carolina Mission for dinner. Just as we were starting dinner another Spanish-speaking elder called who had left his laundry at the two missionaries apartment. I said he is lucky he didn't lose it at a commercial laundermat, no telling what could have happened then. The elder said: "yeah especially since he washed his garments but since he did it at our apartment he should be fine."

Then he told me an urban tale that he claimed was true. He said there were a couple of elders in Georgia or South Carolina who were at a commercial laundermat who were jumped by some guys who sprayed painted their garments. One of the GA's who he thought was Thomas S. Monson dusted them. The laundermat burned to the ground in a couple of weeks. When they rebuilt it after the fire it burned down a second time. My wife and I said it sounded like a Mormon legend but the elder swore it happened.

During dinner we got to talking about our mission presidents. The two elders were in a joking mood and one said "my mission president claimed he could look in to my soul." He claimed he was able to tell when an elder wasn't reading his scriptures or praying. He would look at the elder and say "You haven't been praying, have you Elder?" He said, "I bet you think your mission president did the same thing. All missionaries think their mission presidents can look in to their souls."

His companion turned to him and said "you will never guess who his mission president was?" The elder responded Thomas S. Monson. I said you guessed the right mission anyway. His companion said "Bro. B's mission president was M. Russell Ballard." The elder said "what does the M. stand for?" I said Melvin. He said "No wonder he uses the M. instead of his real name. I said "that is not the reason he goes by Russell and to close friends Russ. His father and grandfather all had the same first name so they chose different names."

He said, "How many mission presidents did you serve under?" I said, "Three." He said, "That is quite a few, that must have been interesting. Was your mission president tough?"

My wife said, "His mission president used to poke the elders in the chest and had a hot seat that he would put them in when he inerviewed them."

I told him my mission president liked to pride himself on the fact that Thomas S. Monson created a stake and he did the same and that Thomas S. Monson never sent a boy home dishonorably and that he was able to do the same.

The elder then told me his mission president was even tougher than Elder Ballard. In fact his mission president learned everything he knew about missionary work from Elder Ballard who spoke to him every week. Elder Ballard usually called him to check on the mission or he would call him. I knew Elder Ballard was the head of Missionary Executive Committee and wondered if he called all 350 mission presidents each week or just a few. The said that President Brailsford and Elder Ballard were close friends.

The elder told me that his mission president led his missionaries by fear and intimidation and he was the most successful mission president in the history of the Southern States Missions in the twentieth century. At first I thought I misheard him so I asked him "What do you mean your mission president led by intimidation?" I am planning on writing a blog called "Mission President's Styles from what you just said." He said that is okay but don't tell my name but his mission president kept missionaries in line by saying he could send anyone home in only three days."

He explained that his mission president demanded complete obedience. He told the missionaries that he would send one home in under three days for disobedience. I said he actually sent missionaries home. Both elders said yes. I said do you have a problem with his being so hard. They said no his success came from the fact that he didn't put up with elders being disobedient. It helped them to live the rules to the letter and they were blessed with 116 baptims. My wife said "Your mission president did the same thing." I said, "No he didn't. He said that the grasp of Satan would be broken if we ever passed 100 in a month. But a couple of months when we could have passed it he didn't feel the candidates were taught sufficiently so we only had 98 or 97 a couple of months."

One missionary said that Elder Yoshihiko Kukuchi had prophesied that the Columbia South Carolina Mission would have 200 baptisms and that President Brailsford having 116 was a fulfillment of that prophesy." I asked them if he shared the story of the missionary when he was mission president in Hawaii that had 1,000 baptisms. I told them I had a small part to play in that elder having such success. He was serving in Laie when I worked at BYU--Hawaii. I made a copy of Alvin R. Dyer's The Challenge and gave it to the kid telling him the time I baptized eight people in one month and told him if he used it he would baptize dozens of people. He went on to become a traveling assistant. My wife replied "Sure we know Elder Kikuchi he married us."

I told them to be careful using the challenge since I shared the same thing in the San Diego Mission with a zone leader in Calexico who had 79 baotisms. His mission president thought he was an arrogant young man and busted him down. The amazing thing was that all the missionaries he trained continued being successful for weeks after he was gone and every missionary wanted to be in our ward where I was ward mission leader. The elders told me they challenge every person on a first discussion before they leave. I told them I would challenge the person first thing then say "How wonderful it is to be with you this evening. Before we leave tonight we would to welcome you to entrance in to Christ's true Church. I am not asking for your response now but before we leave." I told them you had to depend on the spirit after that.

My wife shared the style of her mission president who had been the head of housing at BYU. He was used to dealing with college students who were more mature. He trusted in his elders and sisters to live the mission rules. Unfortunately his trust was misplaced as the sisters and elders sometimes did things like hold dances together. He learned to be tougher as a mission president as a few of them ended up marrying each other. She said for a while they called her mission the Canada Marriage Mission.

I asked the two elders if their new mission president was anything like their last mission president. They said they didn't know since they had only one zone conference to compare them. I said if President Stephen L. McConkie were anything like his father or his brother Joseph Fielding he was probably pretty tough too.

I told them they should try him out next time they saw him. I said Joseph Fielding like to trap return missionaries in the religion department at BYU by asking "How are you, elder?" If you replied, "Good." He would laugh and say "My father says there is only one good man that has ever walked this earth. You know who that is don't you elder."

As I think back over the three mission presidents I served under Leopoldo Larcher, M. Russell Ballard, and Raymond Russell all three men were quite different. President Larcher was a young man who was idealistic but a very caring and loving man. He was in to building the elders and the church but in that order. Elder Ballard had a tough demeanor and concentrated on building the kingdom and was a no nonense kind of mission president. He had a soft side but he didn't let anything keep the work from progressing. He felt if missionaries obeyed the rules they would be successful and the Lord would bless them. A few including me came close to going home but he succeeded in saving just about all of his boys. Raymond Russll was more of a people person who was in to maximizing your potential. He felt if he built the elders they would then have success. All three men had success but each in a unique way. I bet there are all kinds of styles among mission presidents.

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