Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One From A Family: Converts as Missionaries

Recently I read a post Stripling Warriors by Kevin Barney where he was overly impressed that two elders serving at Christmas time in his area were both the only active members in their families. One was a convert and the other was from a family of four siblings with the missionary being the only active one. Although it is impressive there are probably thousands of missionaries throughout the world who are converts. I guess that is not as uncommon as being the only active member in an inactive family to serve since there is not much of a support system. It is hard to go on a mission when you have opposition from family members whether a convert or the only member since it takes courage to serve when your family doesn't fully understand your motivations.

In 1981 when my wife went on her mission to Toronto Montreal (French-speaking) she was the only member of her family. She was converted a year previously while attending a Methodist college by a friend. She was a preacher's kid and on a swimming scholarship at the college. They threatened to expel her from school when she became a Mormon but her dad a Congregational minister threatened to sue them so they backed down and let her finish her senior year. Her family found it interesting their daughter should choose to join the LDS Church and to go on a mission. None of her family ever joined the church.

When I went on my mission in 1975 I was the only member of my family when called to serve in the Italy Rome Mission and then subsequently the Canada Toronto Mission. My family who were Catholics found it strange that I was trying to convert former Catholics who they felt already believed in Christ. After my mission I baptized my brother who was eleven years old. He remained active for about ten years then fell away from the church. On my mission I served mostly with other converts. I only served with one companion who came from an inactive home. Almost all of my companions who were converts had a strong testimony and were very knowledgeable about the Church. I had read the scriptures four times from cover to cover before I went on my mission. On my mission I read them a couple of other times. Most converts or members that were the only active one in their families that I encountered tended to have strong personalities and knew the gospel well. They usually went on a mission because of some internal desire to share the gospel rather than because of the expectation that every worthy young man should serve because it was the sociological thing to do. When I went it was at the beginning of the Spencer W. Kimball movement but there wasn't as much pressure to serve if you just joined the Church. I went because I had a desire to share the gospel with others like me that were searching for answers to gospel questions.

In 1977 shortly after my mission Thomas S. Monson who was head of the missionary committee was asked about single members serving missions:

Ensign: Throughout the world, there are many members of the Church who are the only members in their family. This is particularly true for many young adults. What counsel do you have for persons in this circumstance?

Elder Monson: We are aware that one of the prime groups susceptible to the teachings of the gospel are what we might call the peer group of the missionary. Since this is so, you can see why it is important that we all be missionaries—when that happens, the missionary peer group includes everyone!

Even so, most of our 25,000 full-time missionaries are young adults—and with whom do you think a pair of 20-year-old missionaries would be most comfortable? Obviously, others more near their own age. For this reason, and partly because they are not as set in their ways, many young adults are embracing the gospel. Thus, many young adults are in the situation of being the only members of the Church in their families.

My counsel to persons in such circumstances, whether the member is a child or spouse, is to avoid the tendency to become impatient. Rather, continually show an added measure of love, an added measure of patience. Demonstrate by your own lives how the gospel has improved your lives, and family members in time will generally become aware that the gospel has had a salutary effect on you. Love, patience, continued prayer, and a life filled with joy, happiness, and trust in the Lord—trust that he is mindful of you and that your day will come—is the direction I uniformly give.

Now, as to the young adult in this circumstance who becomes a full-time missionary candidate—we want such candidates to enter the missionary field with the blessings of their nonmember parents. Then that young missionary has the choice opportunity to write his family weekly and tell them of his or her experiences. I don’t know if there is any way to count how many nonmember parents have come into the Church as a result of wonderful, love-filled, inspiring, interesting weekly letters to the home. There is something special about a missionary’s letter. I’ve often said that it seems to have an invisible postmark placed there by the Spirit. And when the letter arrives, it seems to have special significance and a glow about it that was not always there when the missionary wrote it. The letters are read and tears of joy course down the cheeks of parents, members or not. The end result is that there is a spirituality in such correspondence that is difficult to define.

I’ve told before the story of Craig Sudbury of Salt Lake City, who came to my office to be set apart as a missionary to Australia. He wanted to know how he could bring his father into the Church. Of course his mother had been unable to do that for nineteen years. I felt the inspiration to counsel him that if he’d write the right kind of letter to his father each week, it would have an effect. I counseled him to share the testimonies that he experienced as he brought people into the Church—the joy that it brought them—and to let his father know his true feelings about how much he appreciated having him as a dad. The young man did that. In a dramatic way, a year later, his father, Fred Sudbury, told his wife, Pearl, that his son’s letters had had such a profound effect upon him that he had been reading the Book of Mormon and he was now ready to be baptized. He invited his wife to go to Australia with him later so that he could be his son’s final baptism at the conclusion of his mission. That’s only representative of what happens countless times every year.

Gordon B. Hinckley described one young man who was in a similar position as my wife and me:

One need look no further than to the many missionaries who have labored in that part of the world, who in obedience to the Lord accepted a call from His prophet to serve a mission. It was said by the Apostle Peter long ago that Jesus went about doing good. As His ambassadors, missionaries in our generation have gone and continue to go throughout the world doing good in the true spirit of the Master. Let me describe one of them. He is typical of so many others who sincerely desire to serve the Lord.

He came from California and grew up in an ordinary sort of way, not a member of the Church. He became acquainted with a girl who was a member of the Church. He was so impressed with her that, on learning that she was a member of the Church, he wished to know more. Latter-day Saint students at the university taught him the gospel while he was completing a difficult scholastic program. He was baptized. Then, working nights and summers, he saved money enough to sustain him, if he spent it with care, for a period of eighteen months as a missionary. He was called to Guatemala. He was a handsome young man with a brilliant mind and a wonderful education in a highly technical field. I met him in the Guatemala City Temple. He grasped my hand warmly. I asked, “Are you happy?”

“Oh yes, so very happy,” he responded. I asked where he was working as a missionary. He said, “Out among the Lamanites, the native people of Guatemala. It is a very small place where there is much hardship, but the people are wonderful, and I love them.”

I thought it might be interesting to see how many single members of families are the only one serving from their families so I put together this brief poll!

1 comment:

Matt W. said...

er... I think I voted twice.