My dear brothers and sisters, I am grateful to be with you on this special occasion. This event is historic because we have in attendance 173 new mission presidents and their companions! They come from 19 different countries and are assigned to serve in 50 nations around the world. This record number of new mission presidents, coupled with the record number of 70,000-plus missionaries, are significant signs that the Lord is hastening His work.
Missionary work comes alive when we hear remarkable stories of individual conversion. I would like to begin my message today by relating a conversation recently recorded with Sister Neill F. Marriott, sustained last April as second counselor in the general Young Women presidency. Many lessons can be learned as you listen carefully to her story.
A Conversation with Sister Neill F. Marriott
Sister Marriott, I’ve had the privilege of previous associations with you and your dear husband, David. But most members of the Church don’t know you as well as I do. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your conversion to the Church?
Thank you, Elder Nelson. When I was 22 I moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to work, and there I met two members of the Church. And one of them said, “I’m a Mormon.” And my roommates and I said, “What’s a Mormon?”
So one of them said, “Well, would you like us to bring a couple of friends over to your apartment so they could tell you more about our beliefs?” So about a week later they brought their two friends over, and that was the first look I got at Mormon missionaries. And I have to say I had many, many questions.
But they kept coming, and finally they came back to the plan of salvation. And I can still remember that night so well. They said, “Before you came here, you lived in a spirit world with your Heavenly Father. You are a spirit daughter of Him.” Elder Nelson, I recognized those words. They were familiar to me. I’d never heard them in this life, but I knew I’d heard them before somewhere.
At the end of this meeting one of the members spoke up and said, “I’d like to ask one last question.” He looked right at me and said, “Neill, how do you feel about the Book of Mormon?” And the words that popped out of my mouth were, “I think it’s true.” I was so startled to hear those words hanging in the air there. “I think it’s true.” And he—very wisely—didn’t pounce on me; he just said, “Well, then, with that understanding, what are you going to do?” And I promised him that night I would pray honestly. I knelt down in my bedroom—I had my own room—and I just said, “Heavenly Father, if this is the Savior’s only true church on the earth, I’ll be baptized. I just need to know it’s true.” And immediately a voice in my head or in my heart said, “It is true.” Just like that. And I jumped up off my knees and said, “It’s true,” almost surprised at this wonderful answer. And I called the mission president the next morning and said, “Hello, I need to be baptized.”
Oh, I’ll bet he was happy to hear from you. Did you have any feeling about your ancestors?
Well, it’s interesting you’d ask that because my very first calling in the Church was so inspired. The bishop called me in and asked if I would be a member of the genealogy committee.
I wrote my two grandmothers who were in their 80s. I remember it being several weeks, but the mail came and there was a shoebox full of pictures and names on the back and little notes. And so I sat down on the floor in my bedroom, and I began to make stacks of families—the Dade family, the Hill family, the Ray family, the Fielding family. And as I was sorting them through, all of a sudden I just looked up. I didn’t see anything, but the room was full. I felt it was full of people who were interested and happy. And I could feel their presence somehow.
I think within the first two or three years of being a member, I did about 70 names, had about 70 names endowed in the temple. I would send them out here to relatives of David, my husband. I should speak about David a minute.
Oh, please. Tell us who David is.
David is so special. He was one of the members that asked us if we wanted to know more about the Church. And we were married in the Salt Lake Temple just 13 months after my baptism.
Well isn’t that a nice fringe benefit of being a member missionary?
Yes, I recommend it.
Well, you and David have a nice family now. Tell us about your family.
Well, we have 11 children, and when we got married we wanted to have a family, to start a family, and the children just came. They were choice spirits.
Any counsel that you have for our wonderful sisters who try to balance being a wife and a mother and a faithful servant of the Lord, a disciple of the Lord?
Well, I love Church meetings. I know that sounds strange, but my real heart is in my home. And so with each calling—and they did seem to build one on another—I would take care of my home first. Some meetings I missed, but it wasn’t an intrusion on family life. If anything, it taught me to be a better mother.
You’re a better mother because you’re anchored to the gospel.
Well, we are so grateful for you, for the service that you’ve rendered and will yet render.
Thank you, Sister Marriott. Isn’t her story instructive and inspiring? Did you note the cooperation between members and missionaries? (He even became her husband.) Did they really care for her? Did you sense the role of relatives on the other side of the veil who also cared about her? Could you feel the goodness of a woman who loves her husband and her children? When I sense the joy that has come to her life and to generations that follow, my own testimony is strengthened and my enthusiasm to share the gospel increases.
Too often we tend to split the Lord’s work into parts that seem unrelated. Whether it is preaching the gospel to nonmembers, serving with new converts, reactivating less-active members, teaching and strengthening active members, or performing family history and temple work, the work really is indivisible. These efforts are not separate. They are all part of the work of salvation.
Those on the other side of the veil rejoice and shout praises when their descendants accept or return to the gospel, for they know that their descendants are now able to perform vital temple ordinances in their behalf, linking together generations who have passed. This is a lesson Sister Marriott learned soon after her baptism. I hope that every member of the Church may have the opportunity to experience that lifting love from ancestors.
To illustrate how our Heavenly Father expects us to love one another, I would like to relate a parable to you entitled “A Father at Bedtime.”
A caring father is seated at home one evening after his wife and children have gone to bed. He feels an impulse—a prompting—to check on the children. He takes off his shoes and walks quietly to the door of a bedroom. In the dim light from an open doorway, he sees two little heads on pillows and blankets covering these snuggling children, soundly sleeping.
As he listens to their quiet breathing, his mind rehearses scenes from earlier in the day. He hears their laughter as they played together. He sees their smiles as they shared a picnic and their giggles when they were caught feeding ice cream to the dog. (Patience with children comes more easily when they are asleep.) As they slumber, he ponders what they need and how he can help them. He feels a surge of love and a strong duty to protect them.
He then tiptoes to a second bedroom where two older children should be. He sees two beds, but his heart skips a beat when he finds that one of those beds is empty.
He spins around and walks to the study, where he has on occasion found that missing daughter. There he finds her in a chair, quietly reading a book.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
He pulls up a chair next to her. They talk about her day, about her friends, about her goals and dreams. Later she returns to bed, and the father makes one final round before turning out the lights and retiring to his bed.
In the morning, the father assists his dear wife as she prepares breakfast. He sets a place for each of their children, even the youngest, who likes to sleep longer. Aromas from the kitchen arouse the children, and they come running in a blur of motion and chatter.
But one of the chairs is empty. The father asks them to wait while he goes to awaken that missing child. Soon, the entire family is together enjoying their breakfast.
What can we learn from this simple parable? The father followed his impulse to check on his children. He evaluated his relationship with them. He searched for a missing child. His actions were all motivated purely by love. He didn’t do what he did because he had read a handbook. No one gave him a checklist. He followed the feelings of his heart.
So it is with missionary work. The most effective missionaries always act out of love. Love is the lubricant and life of good missionary work.
The father in the parable loved each child. So we too should act out of love to help all, not just a favored few. Opportunities come in various ways, and sadly, some of those are missed opportunities.
An illustration comes from my own family. All eight of my great-grandparents were converts to the Church in Europe. All eight of them immigrated to America. The gospel meant everything to them. However, some in the later generation of my parents drifted from activity in the Church. Consequently, I grew up in a home where my parents did not attend services of the Church.
During my many years of surgical specialization and research, my wife and I lived away from our parents, with our children, in other parts of the country. Out of a constant concern, and even anguish, over the eternal welfare of my beloved parents, I wrote a heartfelt letter to their bishop. I knew him well and had high hopes that he could help. I expressed my love for my parents and asked this good bishop if he could please invite or call someone to teach the gospel to my dear mother and daddy.
Later, I received a reply from their bishop. He wrote how sorry he was that he did not have anyone upon whom he could call to teach my parents!
The bishop’s response dashed my hopes. He had no one to help him!
Now in our day, that should never happen! Never again need a bishop feel empty-handed! Now bishops have members of their ward councils, ward mission leaders, and missionaries ready, willing, and able to help rescue parents of pleading children.
Decades later, my parents became truly converted to the Lord. They were sealed in the temple and their children sealed to them. But I will never forget the lesson learned from their experience. Could a loving Father in Heaven, who commanded us to preach the gospel to every creature, ever draw a line of distinction between those who had never heard the gospel and those who had once heard and then forgotten?
Surely the answer is no. The work of salvation excludes no one! Missionaries and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are sent forth to labor in the Lord’s vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.1 This includes member missionary work at its best, with activation of less-active members and preparation of God’s children for all the blessings of the temple. God wants all of His children to return to Him and qualify for eternal life.
Missionary work in the Lord’s kingdom is a rescue effort. Our beloved President Thomas S. Monson has taught us repeatedly about our reach to rescue. He said, “We can reach out to those for whom we are responsible and bring them to the table of the Lord, there to feast on His word and to enjoy the companionship of His Spirit.”2
In this great work, we love to bring souls unto Christ with their first covenants, and we also love to bring souls back to their previous covenants. President Joseph Fielding Smith so explained. He said, “To save the souls of those who have strayed from the fold is just as worthy and commendable, and causes just as much rejoicing in heaven, as to save souls in far away parts of the earth.”3
In every ward are two individuals who set the pace for missionary work. They are the bishop and the ward mission leader. The bishop holds keys to direct the work. Handbook 2 states that “the bishop and his counselors give priority to member missionary work. They teach the doctrines of missionary work regularly. They encourage ward members to work with full-time missionaries to find, teach, and baptize investigators. They set an example by finding and preparing individuals and families for the missionaries to teach.”4
Under the inspired call of the bishop, the ward mission leader directs missionary work. He coordinates, conducts, arranges, organizes, helps, participates in, attends to, and otherwise leads missionary work in the ward. He regularly holds missionary coordination meetings with the full-time missionaries and ensures that they are invited to attend and participate in ward council meetings when appropriate. The ward mission leader is the missionaries’ active partner and assists them by finding teaching opportunities, advising them, and coordinating all resources of the ward. This could include identifying members who are willing to go on exchanges, to have lessons taught in their homes, to provide needed transportation, and to assist missionaries when teaching those of the opposite gender.
The ward mission leader has an elevated role. You ward mission leaders, please take note: we are asking you to rise to this new responsibility. Know the missionaries. Be their best friend. Work with them. Help to fill their appointment books with meaningful opportunities and appointments so that they won’t have time to knock on doors searching for people to teach.
As directed by the bishop, ward mission leaders and full-time missionaries focus their efforts on new, less-active, and returning members and their families. They focus on friends, part-member families and their families and friends, interested neighbors and friends of ward members, and others who will sincerely listen.
Handbooks tell us what we should do but not how we should do it. There is no script for what we should say, nor are there specific steps to bring the joy of the gospel into people’s lives.
From our parable we learn that there isn’t a book that tells a parent what to do if a child is missing. But what parent would postpone looking for a child until a handbook was written? Good leaders, like good parents, take action because of love. When they act in love, the Spirit will guide them and help them understand that each person requires unique care to help them gain the joy of life lived in the Lord’s way.
The ward mission leader is the connecting link between the missionaries, the ward council, and the members of the ward. How can he do this? How can he bring enthusiasm for missionary work to each member of the ward council to match his own?
We will show you a video recording how the ward mission leader in the Edmunds Third Ward in the Stillwater Oklahoma Stake did it. He was able to change the missionary culture of his entire ward!
The Ward Mission Leader in the Work of Salvation
We were in the midst of one of the worst droughts we’ve had in 50 years.
Kind of going along with the drought, there was not much progress going on in the missionary effort in our stake. I know for our ward, we had not had a convert baptism in three years.
We were concerned as a presidency about what was happening, and we counseled together. So we sent a letter out, asking the members to join together in a fast for missionary work and for the drought.
We received this letter, and the entire stake and other stakes around us fasted, and the missionary work immediately started to pick up.
The floodgates kind of opened up, and everybody was getting involved.
Elder Bowen of the Seventy came to this area and offered missionary training. One of the first comments that he made was, “Full-time missionaries in your ward or branch are simply there to assist you in the missionary work.”
It’s our job as members of the Church to actively be engaged in the work and to invite our friends and family to church.
It can’t happen without either the full-time missionaries or the members being engaged in it. That’s kind of our goal, is to get those ward mission leaders and the ward council really the ones that are driving that, not the full-time missionaries.
The ward mission leader role is to meet with the bishop and with the ward council and to formulate a ward mission plan and then to try and carry out that plan, which is to help the members find and fellowship people for the full-time missionaries to teach.
The only thing that I try to do, along with my assistant ward mission leader and the missionaries, is try to keep the missionaries’ calendar full. Since this whole missionary effort has taken off over the past year, we went from averaging two, three, four lessons taught with member presence per week to 10 to 12. A few months ago we were averaging 14 to 16, and now our goal is 20 lessons taught per week with a member present.
As I sit back and look at this transformation in our ward and within our stake, it’s really easy to see two main aspects that led to this missionary effort exploding, and that’s members being involved in the missionary effort and then extending the invitation to attend church or to meet with the missionaries. So I’m just helping my family and every other family in the ward come up with opportunities to share the gospel with other people.
I’m Trish Gauvin. This is Mark Gauvin.
We were baptized January 26, 2013.
It was the perfect story of member missionary work. We had one family that became friends with them; they introduced them to another family. Their kids met other kids in our ward, and they became friends.
I believe that God placed a lot of members of the Church in our lives for a purpose.
And that led to more serious discussions with the missionaries, and they started to attend church on a more regular basis.
I saw just how the gospel is working in their lives and how they are just lights.
It’s important for our members to get to know our missionaries and our missionaries to get to know our members. But even more importantly, it’s crucial for our members to get to know our investigators and start fellowshipping them.
It puts you at ease when you learn and you meet people like that because you can just feel free to ask. You can feel free to explore and learn something that you don’t know. There’s no judgment.
To me I felt a lot like Joseph Smith as I went to church after church after church. It never felt like there’s something so big missing, and I never found it. This fits. It fits my family; it fits my life.
This drought or stagnant period of missionary work in this area has clearly ended, and it’s just building momentum day by day. And I don’t see it subsiding any time soon.
This is the great work of the latter days. This is the reason why we’re here, to gather Israel. And for me and for all members of the Church, it’s our responsibility to share the gospel with as many people as we can.
We’re grateful to President Kent W. Bowman and his wonderful ward mission leader for showing us how the ward mission and the missionaries worked together. With single purpose and unified vision, they knew the spiritual and temporal needs of those they love. Yes, the real rewards and work of the ward council take place outside their meetings, in the presence of people they teach.
In our parable, you might suppose that the father represented a ward bishop or a ward mission leader. Actually, the father could have represented any member of the Church. With love, each can do as the Good Shepherd would do to plan and to rescue. And each can do so prayerfully with inspiration from the Father of us all.
With divine guidance, each ward auxiliary leader need not wait for the bishop or ward mission leader to make assignments. Each will have the feeling that “our flock seemed complete until we started setting a place at the table for everyone who should be there, not just for those who come.” Each member will want to seek out those who are not yet members of the Church or those who need help in reclaiming the joy of the gospel. They will act by inspiration, motivated by love.
When we follow Jesus Christ, we act as He would act and love as He would love. His objectives are accomplished one soul at a time! Our efforts are exerted out of love for our neighbor and for our Heavenly Father, whose children we are.
Yes, God is our Father! Jesus is the Christ! This is His Church! We are His servants! I so testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.