Thursday, March 12, 2009

Making Best Choices: Quentin L. Cook Instructs Religious Educators to Help Prospective and Returned Missionaries

Greg Hill of the LDS Church News reported on remarks made by Quentin L. Cook to the CES last Friday, 27 February 2009 when he charged religious educators that "the challenges today is to help students understand choices which, while not inherently evil, are not the best choices that they can make." Greg Hill framed Elder Cook's talk as centering around making best choices. An interesting thing about reporting a talk briefly is that the person writing the account places it in a certain framework by the choice of what they quote.

Elder Cook referenced his own mission president Marion D. Hanks and his influence in teaching him the principle: "Give first class devotion to first class causes, the first and most preeminent one being the Gospel of Jesus Christ." I take from this that Elder Cook wants religious educators to keep in mind as they are teaching that everything they teach should lead their students to Christ. I also get from citing Elder Hanks that his mission president had a lifelong influence since he cited him as the source of this core value he learned under his mission president. I can fully understand that as I learned many gospel principles from my own mission president M. Russell Ballard. Mission presidents can influence a missionary's core values for the rest of their lives.

Elder Cook stressed the importance of put the gospel in to action in the daily lives of their students when he said:

In the history of mankind no one has had the responsibility for assisting parents in preparing more missionaries or guiding more missionaries after they have returned than those of you I am talking to tonight. . . . You can assist the parents in seeing that thorough gospel knowledge is in place before a mission for those youth who will qualify themselves to participate.

He also said for the educators to help refine return missionaries decision making process:

With approximately 30 percent of all returned missionaries who have served in this dispensation still in their twenties, I can't think of a more important responsibility that you have in preparing the rising generation for missionary service and nurturing those who return to make correct choices. Your challenge and opportunities are enormous.

Although he was appealing to their ability to apply the gospel to the lives of their students I am not sure that there is really a consistency among religious educators. I took the Book of Mormon after my mission from some highly trained instructors. Only one Wayne Brickey at BYU brought it down to a level where RMs could relate discussing actual mission related experiences and concepts. My other instructors generalized it from every day experience and didn't draw on what we had gone through for eighteen months to two years. Brickey liked to use the analogy of a returned missionary reentering normal life as making messy choices like a baby soiling his diaper. He would say we all make mistakes but we needed to move on in life.

I was glad to see that Elder Cook's missionary orientation influenced what he told religious educators who really are on the front-line in applying gospel principles to missionaries lives. He told them to raise prospective missionaries and returned missionaries critical analysis skills so that they could make better choices with their lives. It takes more than a gospel knowledge to apply the gospel in a missionary's life. And a teacher needs to more than teach content if they want a student to apply gospel teachings to their own lives or those of their investigators. The two examples of the two different men brought home the trajectory that our lives can take if we lose sight of why we went on missions in the first place which is to live our lives in such a way we can return to live with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It may be obvious that is a religious educators' charge but I think messages like Elder Cook's refocuses our attention on the obvious.

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