All missionary work is founded on the doctrine of Christ. As mission presidents, missionaries, members, and those learning about the Church come to understand that doctrine, then all other aspects of missionary work and of growth in the gospel take their proper places. In addition, the motivation for learning the gospel, for sharing the gospel, and for being obedient to the commandments of our Heavenly Father becomes increasingly clear.
“The ‘word’ that you and we declare, the word that generates faith in Christ is the gospel or 'good news’ of Jesus Christ,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at a seminar for new mission presidents and their spouses. “Simply put, the good news is that death is not the end of existence, and our separation from God is temporary. We have a Savior, Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, who by His Atonement has overcome death and hell so that all will be resurrected and all who will repent and be baptized in His name may have place in the heavenly kingdom of God forever.”
Each year, prophets and apostles meet with new mission presidents just before they report to their missions. In training the new presidents, these special witnesses emphasize the doctrine of Christ. President Thomas S. Monson, President Henry B. Eyring (First Counselor), President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (Second Counselor), President Boyd K. Packer, and several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed the 2011 seminar. Other Church leaders, including members of the Seventy assigned to the Missionary Department, the Presiding Bishopric, and auxiliary organizations, also participated.
President Monson’s Message
President Monson opened the seminar on Thursday morning by expressing his love for missionaries and missionary work.
“I have frequently read the Joseph Smith story,” he said. “It is a great missionary tool, and as I read that story and contemplate the boy Joseph going into that grove now called Sacred, I have contemplated also that in our lives, all of us have a personal Sacred Grove where we can be particularly close to the Lord, where we can communicate just a little more freely with Him than otherwise would be the case. One of my Sacred Groves is at the missionary training center.”
President Monson offered practical advice about how to motivate missionaries with love, based on his own experiences as a mission president. He stressed the importance of following the guidance of the Spirit and of including local leaders and members in missionary work.
Faith in Christ
“You and the missionaries who will serve under your direction are called, set apart, and empowered by apostolic keys and authority,” Elder Christofferson said in his message. “You and they are therefore counted among ‘the chosen vessels of the Lord’ commissioned to ‘bear testimony of him’ so that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts.’ In other words, as the Lord’s authorized messengers, it is your teaching and testifying by the power of the Holy Ghost that will introduce faith in Christ in the souls of those who hear you.”
He said that “by our covenants with God we can enjoy a faith in Christ strong enough to see us through any challenge or trial, knowing that in the end our salvation is assured. . . . Our faith in Christ is born of the Spirit as we hear the word of God taught by those who are His commissioned servants, both living and dead. Building upon that foundation, our faith is strengthened . . . [and] repentance rooted in faith further nourishes our faith as obedience is perfected.” Add in service to others, and “over time we find that the blessings promised for obedience to God’s commandments and covenants are in fact realized in our lives.”
He also noted that “part of the miracle of missionary work is the dramatic growth of a missionary’s faith in Christ as he or she strives to build that same faith in others.”
Teach and Testify of the Savior
Other prophets and apostles also taught truths based on the doctrine of Christ and bore testimony of the Savior and of missionary work.
“As you follow the Master Teacher, even Jesus Christ, you will teach by example and you will teach the doctrine,” President Uchtdorf said. “Teach and testify frequently of the Savior, and express your love for Him. Encourage your missionaries to do the same all the time, in all places, and to all people. Help them to never be ashamed of the gospel message and the Church. They can only testify of what they know to be true. Help them to know that it is!”
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “I hope that you may learn, teach, and live the doctrine of Christ. The scriptures refer to the doctrine of Christ only as singular. They do not refer to the doctrines of Christ. His doctrine has many facets, from which we derive many principles. Learn the doctrine of Christ on your mission, and expect the same from your missionaries. Good gospel scholarship comes from daily scripture study and by teaching what has been learned. This mission is a great time to learn the doctrine of Christ, to explain it and live it well.“
Elder Nelson, who had two daughters present at the seminar with their mission president husbands, a third daughter moving to Japan to serve in an Area Presidency with her husband, and four grandchildren also serving as full-time missionaries, said, “I feel a deep interest in missionary work, now perhaps more than ever before.” He told the mission president couples, “I wish I could adopt all of you as my children. I feel that kind of love and gratitude for you.”
Servants of the Lord
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who spoke at the missionary training center devotional as part of the seminar, said, “A Preach My Gospel missionary is a servant of the Lord, called by prophecy and authorized by the laying on of hands, who proclaims the Savior’s everlasting and restored gospel (see D&C 68:1) in His way (D&C 50:13-14; 17-24).
“Please note the similarity between this definition and your overarching purpose as a missionary described in Preach My Gospel: ‘Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end’(Preach My Gospel, 1). . . . As we serve, we do not represent our families, our friends, our branches, our wards, our communities, or nations. Rather, we represent Him. His purposes should be our purposes. . . . His will should become our will.”
President Packer spoke about the Holy Ghost, a voice that can be felt rather than heard. He also recounted the incident in the third book of Nephi when the people wanted to know what they should call the Church: “ ‘And the Lord [slightly impatient] said, . . . Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ?’ And then He explained that they were to name the Church in His name. . . . He said, ‘If it’s named in my name, then . . . the Father will bless it for my sake.’ ”
His Work and His Glory
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles paid tribute to his mission president, Elder Marion D. Hanks, formerly of the Presidency of the Seventy, who is now an emeritus General Authority, as well as to his first companion and trainer, Elder Gerald L. Pulsipher. In doing so, he reminded the mission presidents and their wives, “This isn’t your Church and it isn’t your gospel and it technically isn’t even your mission. This is God’s very work and His glory. . . . Please remember these missionaries were His a long time before they were yours, and the work they and you are to do was clearly His a long time before it was yours. So be peaceful. You are in the Lord’s hands just like they are. You are going out as His servants.”
Approved of the Lord
President Eyring gave the final message of the seminar as an address during a sacrament meeting. He spoke about the Holy Ghost and about how missionaries can know when their efforts are approved of the Lord.
“Your faithful missionaries will be motivated when the Spirit conveys to them the truth of this loving promise from the Lord to them and to everyone they will ever meet: ‘Then spake Jesus, saying, Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 11:29).
“That kindly invitation runs through all the instructions you have been given about how to do missionary work and how to lead in it. Your missionaries will feel drawn by the Lord’s love. Love begets love. The missionaries will feel His love as the Atonement works to change hearts. Their love for Him will increase. They will come to know the Master as they serve with Him. As we know Him better we love Him even more. That will be true for your missionaries.
“They will grow steadily in their capacity to help all they meet feel His love for them. Those they speak to and teach will feel the Lord’s love through your missionaries. They will feel that love not only from what the missionaries do and say but by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost that testifies of the reality of God and allows us to feel the joy of His love.
“That is how your missionaries can know they are approved of the Lord.”
Watch for additional reports on addresses from the new mission presidents seminar.
President Monson and Missionary Work
At the seminar, President Monson shared some of his own experiences with, and feelings about, missionary work. Here is some of what he shared.
A Sacred Location
One of my Sacred Groves is at the missionary training center. Although I haven’t recently had the opportunity, over the years I have loved being present when new missionaries are coming in. I have watched the younger brothers and sisters of the missionaries look up proudly at their tall big brother or big sister who is going on a mission. I’ve watched many mothers wipe tears from their eyes. I like to see Father in a wrinkled suit, admiring the new suit that his son has. I look down at Dad's shoes. Sometimes there are holes in the soles of the shoes, but not in the shoes that missionary son wears; he has the best. Father and mother have sacrificed that their child might go forward as a servant of the Lord. The young men and women have been trained in their homes and in their Church classes and in seminary. They are qualified by age and by virtue and by experience. They have been interviewed by the bishop and found worthy, interviewed by the stake president and found worthy, and set apart as a missionary in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An Inspired Transfer
I recall, as a mission president in Canada [1959-1962], looking at our list of missionaries and feeling the definite inspiration to move one young man from the city of Belleville, Ontario, to Welland, Ontario. . . . 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. I was unaware that his mother was Italian and that she had taught the boy to speak in her native tongue. By listening to the Spirit and transferring him, he was able to carry the gospel to those Italian families in Welland.
An Outstanding Trainer
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 of them. 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“ (D&C 84:106).
Letters Can Convert
On one occasion I was visiting a mission in Los Angeles and interviewed all the missionaries. To one young missionary from Georgia, I said, almost matter-of-factly, ”Do you write a letter home to your parents every week?“ ”Yes, sir.“ ”Do you receive a letter from your loved ones every week?“ He said, ”No, sir.“ I stopped and said, ”How long has it been since you had a letter from your parents?“ He kind of gulped a little bit and said, ”I've never had one.“ I was stunned. I said, ”How long have you been out?“ He said, ”Almost six months.“ Then he began to let the tears flow. I looked at him and felt the inspiration to make a promise to him. I said, ”I promise you, Elder, that if you continue to send a letter home to your mother and father every week, you will see a change in their lives.”
Many months later I went back to California to attend a stake conference. After the session, a young missionary came up to me and said, “Elder Monson, do you remember me?” I had interviewed about 1,700 that year. I said, “The face is familiar, but I can't quite remember your name.” He said, “I'm the elder you interviewed who had not heard from his mother and father in six months. I’m the elder to whom you gave a promise that if I continued to write a letter home every week, my parents would write to me.”
I was almost afraid to ask, but I did: “Have you heard from them?” He said, “Have I heard from them!” He reached into his pocket and brought out a letter from his mother, the contents of which I will ever remember. 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.” Then it was my turn to cry. The boy said, “Brother Monson, the Lord fulfilled your promise.” I said, “The Lord answered your prayer.”
A Happy Elder
For years after we returned from Canada, I carried in my wallet a photograph of one of my missionaries, Heber Barzee. 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 to 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.”