Prophet, Apostles Speak at MTC Mission Presidents' Seminar
Contributed By By Gerry Avant, Church News editor; Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor; and Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
“You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good." —President Thomas S. Monson
UPDATE: 7/6/2012, 12:44 p.m. This story on the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents has been updated with addresses from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, President Boyd K. Packer, Elder L. Tom Perry, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Russell M. Ballard, and Bishop Gérald Caussé.
Newly called mission presidents and their wives, 110 couples, gathered in a large room in the Missionary Training Center on Sunday, June 24, for sacrament meeting. Though they had met on Saturday evening with the missionaries in the MTC who are assigned to their missions, this gathering marked the official start of the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents, which concluded on Wednesday, June 27.
The couples stood in reverent respect as President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, entered the room. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric were in their places on the stand, and members of auxiliary presidencies were seated in the congregation.
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in conducting the meeting, noted that President Monson, who “has the voice of experience,” has addressed every group of new mission presidents for at least 40 years.
“President Monson has displayed the ability courageously and boldly to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” Elder Nelson said. “He embodies what each and every missionary—indeed all of us—need in order to carry out the work of the Lord.”
Elder Nelson spoke of some of the work President Monson has done for the Church in Eastern Europe. (As an Apostle, Elder Monson traveled “behind the Iron Curtain,” reassuring members of the Church and preparing the way for the resumption or onset of missionary work and, eventually, temples).
Elder Nelson spoke of being present on October 28, 1988, when then-Elder Monson met with Herr Erich Honecker, the head of state for the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany. “For more than 50 years, no missionaries had been allowed in East Germany, and no missionary from East Germany had been allowed to serve elsewhere,” said Elder Nelson. “I knew something of the difficulty of opening a … country [such as this] to missionary work. I watched as President Monson boldly and powerfully asked Herr Honecker to allow foreign missionaries to serve in East Germany and also allow the Church to send missionaries from his country to serve in other countries. Herr Honecker responded: ‘Permission is granted. We have known you through your many visits in the past. We trust you.’ I’ll never forget that experience. It was one of the many historic days of President Monson’s life as a missionary.”
The first full-time missionaries in more than half a century crossed the border and entered East Germany five months later, on March 30, 1989. On May 8, 1989, 10 missionaries from the German Democratic Republic arrived at the Missionary Training Center in Provo.
Turning to President Monson, Elder Nelson said, “Thank you, President Monson, for teaching us by example the power of inspired and faith-filled missionary service.”
President Thomas S. Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Addressing the new mission leaders, President Thomas S. Monson said, “I know that you feel ill prepared for the assignment that has come to you. I want you to know that you are wrong. The Lord has prepared you from your youth through the assignments you have had in the Church, through your schooling, and sometimes through your missions. The first mission I served was as mission president.” He was 31 years old when he was called in 1959 to preside over the Canadian Mission.
“Put your confidence in the Lord. ... If you take the Lord with you, you will find out that His Spirit goes before you,” he said.
Noting that some of the mission presidents and their wives looked anxious or nervous about their new calling, President Monson said, “Relax! There will be someone there to help you.” Then, pointing heavenward, he said, “There will be Someone up there to help you.”
President Monson said missionaries represent the flower of youth and the hopes, prayers, and dreams of their parents. “They represent sacrifice. If you as mission presidents can realize the importance of their missions in the lives of these young men and young women and in the lives of your senior couples, then you will be in a better position to motivate them properly.”
Drawing on his own experiences as a mission president, he suggested some ways mission leaders can motivate missionaries. He spoke about greeting and interviewing missionaries as they arrive and during the time they are serving, relying on the Spirit to make transfers, receiving and responding to weekly reports from missionaries, establishing appropriate activities for preparation day, visiting missionaries’ apartments to check for safety—physical and spiritual—and cleanliness, meeting with all missionaries of a zone or a district, encouraging missionaries to e-mail or write to their parents every week, involving the membership of the Church in the proselytizing program, and building mission spirit to let missionaries know they know they are appreciated and that they “have been called to the greatest mission in all the earth.”
President Monson told the mission leaders, “You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good.
“My brothers and sisters, you have been hand-selected. You have been chosen from among the most faithful in the Church, and now you have the opportunity to go forth in the Lord’s harvest field.”
President Monson’s address not only instructed the new mission presidents and their wives, but also inspired and comforted them.
President Peter E. Sackley and his wife, Sister Kelly Sackley, have been assigned to the India New Delhi Mission. President Sackley said they lived in Ontario, Canada, about 10 years ago. “We could see the result of President Monson’s work as a mission president there, even after so many years. His influence is still felt there.” He said that President Monson “knows and understands” what mission presidents are required to do and how they feel.
Sister Sackley said of President Monson’s message, “It was almost overwhelming. It was so encouraging to hear of his experiences as a mission president. ... He conveyed the message, ‘It’s OK; you can do this.’”
President Chad A. Rowley, who has been called with his wife, Sister Lisa Rowley, to serve in the Peru Piura Mission, said, “President Monson set the tone for the week with his emphasis on missionary work. It’s great to see and hear him at general conference, but today (in sacrament meeting) he was right there in front of us. It was really special.”
Sister Rowley said, “I could feel the love he has for missionaries; I could feel the trust he has that missionaries will be successful.”
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency
“You are never alone in the Lord’s work,” said President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, during the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 25.
“We who are called of God know that is true, but we sometimes feel and act as if that fact was not a practical and hourly reality in our service in the kingdom of God.”
Speaking to new mission presidents and their wives, President Eyring recalled a conversation with President James E. Faust (1920–2007), then Second Counselor in the First Presidency.
President Eyring had just been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and President Faust had noticed he was beginning to doubt himself. “I felt he was going to answer the question of whether I was approved of the Lord,” President Eyring recalled. “I began to ask him for that reassurance. … He pointed to the ceiling of his office and said quietly, ‘Don’t ask me. Ask Him.’”
President Eyring said President Faust knew that the only source for the answer to his question was the Lord of the vineyard.
“President Faust knew that time after time I had been called to labor. He and other human servants knew what I had done over those years. But only the Lord knew what had been in my heart and what had happened to my heart. Only the Lord knew in what way the Atonement and the Holy Ghost had changed and purified me.”
President Eyring said that only the Father, His Beloved Son, and the Holy Ghost can provide the assurance Church members need to go forward boldly in their service.
“It is not what we have done that matters,” he said. “It is how our hearts have been changed through our faithful obedience. And only God knows that.”
President Eyring said he has learned how to seek and then feel the assurance that he is approved enough in his service to go forward in confidence. “Everyone needs that assurance,” he said.
He asked the mission presidents to teach their missionaries that there is only one audience that they can trust perfectly. “Only God is a sure source of accolade,” he said. “And the accolade we need is to know that by serving Him faithfully we have become more like Him.
“That could shape the praise you give your missionaries. You will tend to praise them more for what they are becoming than for what they have done.”
The most certain evidence of approval is that the Lord trusts a person by sending the Spirit to testify, guide, and help him or her in the harvest, he said.
“I find that only comes after prayer, searching scriptures and the words of living prophets, exact obedience, love of others, humbly listening for the Spirit, and long and painful labor.
“I wish I could tell you that it took less effort and came more quickly,” he added. “I wish the harvest was easy and that the Holy Ghost was given just for the asking. … The Holy Ghost comes as we try to give our all. And it is the Holy Ghost who both cleanses us and conveys the Lord’s approval.”
Temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, charity, and humility give servants of the Lord the power to work with and influence other people, President Eyring said.
Teachers improve, he added, as they try to feel the true love of God for their students. “It takes faith in the Savior that He loves every student—or every contact—enough to have paid the price of his or her sins.”
President Eyring said teaching is just one of the ways missionaries labor with and for others. “But all those labors must spring from the love of God to be effective,” he said.
Love of God begets love, President Eyring added.
“You will touch a few. They will touch others. And in the years ahead you will find that the fruits of your labors were multiplied a hundredfold by those with whom you served. And most of all you will come to see that it was the loving service of Heavenly Father, of the Savior of the world, and of the Holy Ghost which allowed you to be blessed with peace here and joy in the celestial kingdom, never to feel alone.”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, stood before the newly called mission presidents of the Church and, with a broad smile, praised them for their willingness to serve the Lord with all their heart, mind, might, and strength.
“Thank you for your radiance of goodness,” he said. “We love all of you, and please know that the Lord knows and loves you.”
The Church leader said much learning would take place at the seminar, and much more will happen over the next three years of service.
“You have been called by a prophet of God and set apart by one holding authority to confer upon you the keys to this great work for your mission,” he said. “In all that you do, no matter how routine or mundane your tasks may occasionally seem, you should see yourself and your missionaries from the eternal perspective of our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation for His children.”
The mission president and his wife have a calling to increase the number of new and enduring converts, but it is also to assist local Church leaders and members and strengthen the Church, he said.
“These members represent a vital source of strength and spiritual power for you and your missionaries. Respect, love, and honor the members,” he counseled. Treat the members, he added, as if all the mission’s success depended only on their efforts.
He gave them the same counsel regarding missionaries. “Teach the missionaries to pray, find, teach, have faith, and work as if all the mission’s success depended on their own efforts only. And help both members and missionaries understand that eventually this work is not about them but about the Lord Jesus Christ and His mission, and that we need to trust and rely totally on Him.”
President Uchtdorf counseled the mission presidents to help the missionaries understand that the fruit of their labors will reach far beyond their present horizon. “Generations to come will be grateful and bless their names for their faithfulness and dedication,” said President Uchtdorf, noting he can testify of this in his own life. “As these young missionaries endure rejection, loneliness, self-doubt, homesickness, exhaustion, and temptation, the refiner’s fire will purify their souls. They will increase in wisdom and grow up in the Lord, and, as they stay faithful, their confidence will wax strong in the presence of God.”
The influence of a mission president on the lives of the missionaries cannot be underestimated, he said. “Mission presidents are teachers and trainers. Teaching, training, and working with your missionaries are among your most important and far-reaching duties.” He added that such teaching will best occur through example and by knowing and applying what is taught in the missionary guide, Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service.
“You will teach them best by proselyting and teaching with them, by interviewing them, by developing an effective mission training plan, by teaching in zone conferences and setting the standards for effective district meetings, and by personal daily preparation,” he said. “As you follow the Master Teacher, even Jesus Christ, you will teach by example and you will teach the doctrine.”
President Uchtdorf spoke of the value of role-playing to help the missionaries best learn to work with the people they teach.
“Preach My Gospel has been designed to give missionaries great responsibility and also great flexibility to teach by the Spirit,” he said. “Your missionaries have been called of God and promised great resources of power. You have been called to help them rise to these expectations.”
Just as the missionaries minister to their investigators, a mission president and his wife minister to the missionaries, he explained. Strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ by inviting them to repent and by encouraging them to renew and keep their sacred covenants.
President Uchtdorf taught the mission presidents to be examples of Christlike love and to frequently express that love to the missionaries, members, and all they come in contact with. He also emphasized the importance of teaching the first principles and ordinances of the gospel as the foundation of conversion, retention, and activation.
And, always, point the missionaries toward the Savior and His Atonement. “Teach and testify frequently of the Savior; express your love for Him,” he said. “Encourage your missionaries to do the same all the time, at all places, and to all people. Help them to never be ashamed of the gospel message or the Church. The missionaries can only testify of what they know to be true. Help them to know that this work is true!”
Do not ignore or dismiss disobedience, and help all the missionaries understand what the Lord expects of them, he counseled. And finally, know that the primary source of support is from on high. “As servants of the Lord, you and your wife are entitled to Heavenly Father’s help,” he said. “Humbly seek His guidance through prayer and fasting, ‘by study and also by faith’ (D&C 88:118). Exercise your faith by acting promptly on the whisperings of the Spirit. Scripture study and prayer open the doors for personal revelation.”
Concluding, President Uchtdorf wished the new presidents and their wives much happiness in their sacred callings. “May God magnify and strengthen you in body and spirit,” he said. “May He bless you, your families, and your missionaries during these precious years of service.”
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a former mission president, offered a message of sustaining comfort on June 27 to those gathered for the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.
“It is going to be all right,” he assured the new mission presidents and their wives. “Your affairs are going to be all right. Your children will be all right, and your grandchildren, and your home, and your holdings. All have been placed on the altar, and they are watched over by more faithful servants than we could have in mortality.”
President Packer enlisted common sense, humor, and his decades of Church leadership to teach the new mission presidents and their companions. He began by reminding the presidents of the priceless opportunity they have been given to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with their wives.
“You will know if you know me at all that Sister [Donna] Packer has been the major influence in everything that I do,” he said. “The blessing that came to me as a mission president was to have the only call in the Church where husband and wife serve together.”
Mission presidents, along with married couples, are the only missionaries who can choose their companions. “The rest of the missionaries take what you give them,” he said. “And it is a marvelous experience.”
President Packer paid tribute to “one of the greatest missionaries of this dispensation”—President Henry D. Moyle (1889–1963) of the First Presidency. He spoke of traveling with President Moyle and learning from that venerable Church leader the importance of answering calls to serve and always following the promptings of the Spirit.
On one occasion, while serving as a young General Authority, President Packer was assigned to correct a situation involving a missionary who had committed a moral infraction. After meeting with the elder, young Elder Packer spent a couple of hours in prayerful seclusion and reflection. There he received a spiritual prompting on what to do about the missionary—but there remained in him doubts about how to move forward. He telephoned President Moyle to discuss his dilemma and was taught a powerful lesson.
“[President Moyle] thundered over the phone these words, ‘Don’t you go against the witness of the Spirit! Don’t go against the witness of the Spirit!’”
In accordance with that spiritual witness, the missionary was allowed to remain in the mission field. He would faithfully fulfill the remainder of his call and return home clean, worthy, and forgiven.
President Packer acknowledged the concern that a new mission president might have for his family and affairs at home. “You have made the commitment to accept the call, and the Lord will watch over you,” he said.
He counseled the mission leaders to “be not afraid” and to have faith that things will turn out all right. He marveled at the spiritual strength of the missionaries and their ability to accept challenges and fulfill responsibilities that may seem to be beyond their capacity.
While presiding over the New England Mission, President Packer learned the value of listening to the counsel of his own missionary companion.
“I have learned with my wife to pay strict attention when she says, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking …’” he said. “And I have wanted to know what it is she has been thinking, because very often the revelation came to me through that channel, and it is an easier channel to listen to than it might have been otherwise.”
The Brethren do not worry about the new mission presidents as they travel across the globe to their respective fields of labor. “We cannot,” President Packer said. “There are too many of you and too far away. There are 347 missions now and 110 new mission presidents, and it is just a marvel that the thing works at all.
“And why does it work? Well, it would not work anywhere else. That cannot be understood by those who are not in the Church, but that is the way it is.” Mission presidents carry on their shoulders the building up of the Church across the world, he added, “and with our human frailties, we can do what we can do. But you will never be disappointed by the Almighty. He will work with you.”
President Packer asked the mission presidents and their wives to consider the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. Ordinary men who worthily hold the Melchizedek Priesthood can place their hands upon a new convert and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. Miracles can take place through the power of that sacred gift.
On one occasion on his mission, President Packer silently questioned a missionary companionship’s decision to baptize a woman who appeared “hard as nails.” A couple of months later he was walking into a chapel and was greeted by a woman as he passed by. “I said, ‘Hello,’” he recalled. “And then I stopped and turned around, and it was the woman. I could not believe the transformation that had taken place. Her countenance was different. She was dressed differently, and the baptism had taken.”
President Packer then spoke of the impact the Book of Mormon has had on his own life, saying it has become a part of him. “The Book of Mormon is so profoundly important, so profoundly beautiful, that we should have no hesitancy in causing by one way or another to see that your elders and sisters at least know that much.”
The missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, he added, is a marvelous and inspired instrument for missionaries.
Then the veteran Church leader and administrator offered this counsel: “I worry sometimes a bit that we can be too well organized and too directed, too regimented, so that we do not leave ourselves in the position where we have to be rescued by the Spirit.”
The new mission presidents, he added, can learn much from the people they serve with, just as he learned vital lessons while working with President Moyle.
“Just go with our blessings. The Lord will go before you. He will watch over you. I do not hesitate to promise that. You will have the struggles that you ought to have. They are typical of what is going on. And in this wicked world, you will find your way.”
Elder L. Tom Perry, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Latter-day Saint missionaries hope that families and individuals will invite them into their homes, said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Then, as members, we may invite those families and individuals into our home—the Church, he said.
Speaking to new mission presidents and missionaries during the 2012 New Mission Presidents Seminar, Elder Perry explained that as a Church, “we invite because we love.”
“We know that if children of God accept our invitation to enter our home, which is the house of the Lord, the gospel will bring them salvation and exaltation. As missionaries, this will be your primary and most important effort. But it is also important for you missionaries to know that those who you invite to be converted and join our Church-home will enjoy increased happiness, health, joy, and opportunities for meaningful service during their mortal sojourn here on earth. Our Church-home is a home we can feel pleased and eager to invite others to enter—after all, it is the Lord’s home.”
During his address, Elder Perry shared some recent independent data prepared by the Church’s Public Affairs Department in conjunction with Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy. It outlines the statistically measurable benefits associated with dwelling in a Church-home.
“I present these statistics not in a spirit of boasting, but in a sincere effort to help us all better understand how the gospel of Christ improves the lives of its members both in the eternities and the here and now,” he said.
Elder Perry said that Dr. James Enstrom at the UCLA School of Public Health studied Mormon populations that have been practicing the faith for an extended period. The 25-year study focused on members on the Church in California and concluded that these members—particularly those who were married, had never smoked, attended Church weekly, and had at least 12 years of education—had total death rates that are among the lowest ever reported for a group followed for 25 years.
“Latter-day Saint sisters have a life expectancy of just over 86 years—five and a half years longer than that of comparable females,” Elder Perry said. “Latter-day Saint brethren have a life expectancy of over 84 years—almost 10 years longer than that of comparable males.”
Early in 2012 the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious Life released a broad study titled “Mormons in America.” This comprehensive look at Latter-day Saints showed that the overwhelming majority of members are satisfied in their lives and content with their communities.
“Nearly 9 out of 10 reported satisfaction with their lives,” said Elder Perry. “That is well above the public generally, which is 75 percent.” In addition, 92 percent of Church members age 40 or younger are satisfied with their lives.
Elder Perry also said that 7 in 10 Latter-day Saints show high levels of religious commitment—higher than any other religious group surveyed and more than double the general public.
Elder Perry noted that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah—which has the highest concentration of Latter-day Saints in the United States—has the highest percentage of households headed by married couples in the country and the highest percentage of homes with children.
“According to the Pew Center, more than 80 percent of Church members say being a good parent is one of their most important goals in life. Just half of the general public says that. And nearly three out of four Latter-day Saints believe that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life, compared with just one third of the general public.”
Elder Perry said various studies have confirmed that the more education a Latter-day Saint has, the more likely he or she is to be actively involved in the Church.
“In most churches, it is the opposite. But the Pew Center’s survey found that members who have graduated from college attend church more often than those with less education.” He added, “The Church’s multifaceted program of religious education begins in the home and is bolstered through Church programs that support the individual and family’s learning.”
According to one recent survey, Latter-day Saints were the most knowledgeable about Christianity and the Bible and were third only to Jewish survey participants and, oddly, atheists in knowledge about various world religions, Elder Perry said.
“We welcome truth from whatever source, and take the pragmatic view that where religion and science seem to clash, it is simply because there is insufficient data to reconcile the two.”
Elder Perry said the Pew Center’s survey also reported that 80 percent of those who served missions said it was a very valuable time in preparing them for job or career success, and 92 percent said it helped them grow in their own faith.
A recent University of Pennsylvania study by the School of Social Policy and Practice concluded that the average Church-attending Latter-day Saint spends approximately 430 hours per year volunteering—nearly nine times more than the general public.
“This pattern is repeated for charitable giving,” Elder Perry said. “According to a study by the University of Indiana, the average annual rate of giving by practicing Latter-day Saints far exceeds that of other citizens; this holds true even if one does not count the biblical tithe that the Lord asks of us.”
Elder Perry said the statistics say something significant. “They are a glimpse of how Latter-day Saints make their faith a way of life,” he said.
Near the conclusion of his address, Elder Perry said that Latter-day Saints, as with members of any other faith, have their problems. However, he added, “the information compiled from the surveys shows that we are good neighbors in the communities in which we live.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Holding up a copy of the Book of Mormon, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared it “is the keystone of our religion” and that it testifies of Christ, that it and the Bible support each other, that it answers questions of the soul, and that it draws people nearer to God (see Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service , chapter 5).
“All of these assertions are absolutely true,” said Elder Nelson as he addressed mission presidents and their wives at the annual 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents on Sunday, June 24. “You and your missionaries will be blessed as you teach these concepts with conviction and power.”
Elder Nelson said that Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ made two long-standing promises to all mankind, and those promises are interrelated, still in force, and yet to be fulfilled.
“The first is Their ancient promise to gather scattered Israel. The second is the ageless promise of the Second Coming of the Lord.”
He then discussed the importance of these promises as the Father and Son introduced this last dispensation—the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Elder Nelson spoke of the dispensation of Adam through the dispensation headed by Jesus Christ, and said, “In each dispensation, prophetic teachings were meant to help the people. But disobedience to those teachings resulted in apostasy.”
Elder Nelson spoke of the covenant God made with Abraham more than 4,000 years ago—through Abraham’s lineage people of all nations would be blessed. Other important components of that promise were made: Abraham would have a numberless posterity, certain lands would be inherited, the seed of Abraham would be the official bearers of the priesthood unto all nations and all nations may be blessed through Abraham’s lineage, those not descended from Abraham who would accept the gospel would become the literal seed of Abraham through adoption, and the Savior of the world would come through Abraham’s lineage.
He explained that after the tribes of ancient Israel rejected the Lord’s teachings, the “loving but grieving Father scattered Israel, but He promised that one day scattered Israel would be gathered back into the fold of the Lord.”
Elder Nelson told mission presidents to remind their missionaries that they are the “swift messengers” Isaiah prophesied the Lord would send to scattered Israel in latter days.
“This concept of gathering is one of the important teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Elder Nelson said. Further, he declared, “The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a sign to the entire world that the Lord has commenced to gather Israel and fulfill covenants He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We not only teach this concept, but we participate in it. We do so as we help gather the elect of the Lord on both sides of the veil.”
Elder Nelson noted that many aspects of the Abrahamic covenant have already been completed and that the promise of the gathering will be fulfilled just as surely as were the prophecies of the scattering of Israel.
He said, “The gathering of Israel is a necessary prelude to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord. And the Book of Mormon is God’s instrument needed to accomplish both of these divine objectives.
“It is a gift from God to the entire world.”
No one knows when the promise of the Second Coming will be fulfilled, Elder Nelson said, but thanks to the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saints know the promised gathering will take place in the latter days” (see 1 Nephi 15:18).
“If our missionaries can feel deep in the marrow of their bones their connection to this [the Abrahamic] covenant—if they can truly comprehend their true identify and purpose—they will be powerful and tireless servants of the Lord.”
Elder Nelson told the mission leaders, “Be we reminded that the gathering of Israel is not the ultimate endpoint. It is but the beginning. The true endpoint is eternal life. It is that God’s children, in a covenant relationship with Him either by lineage or by adoption, will be able to dwell with Him and their families forever. That is God’s glory—eternal life for His children!”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
On the final day of the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles focused his message on “the keys of the holy priesthood.”
The Restoration of the Church required both the conferring of the priesthood and the restoration of priesthood keys, he said. Only by these restorations could the Church be authorized to perform all of the acts and ordinances of previous dispensations in the final dispensation.
“The keys of the priesthood are conferred in their entirety only on those men who are ordained Apostles and sustained as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Elder Oaks explained. “However, only the President of the Church has the right to exercise all of these keys in their fulness.”
Every act or ordinance performed under priesthood authority for the Church must be authorized and directed by one holding the keys for that act, he explained. Understanding the principles of priesthood authority and priesthood keys can help mission presidents with two key responsibilities: teaching missionaries and teaching members.
“First, you need to be a great role model for your young missionary force—about one third of whom [worldwide] come from a home where their father was not an active Melchizedek Priesthood holder,” he said. “Second, you need to direct the teaching of priesthood principles in your member districts. Most of our North American missions do not have member districts, but worldwide about two-thirds of our missions have member districts. Therefore, most of you will be responsible to see that leaders and members are taught priesthood principles to help them develop toward stakehood.”
The family and the Church, he explained, have a mutually reinforcing relationship. “The family is dependent upon the Church for doctrine, ordinances, and priesthood keys, while the Church provides the teachings, authority, and ordinances necessary to perpetuate family relationships in the eternities.”
In fact, the family and the Church are so interrelated that service in one is service to the other. “When children see their parents faithfully performing Church callings, it strengthens their family relationships,” said Elder Oaks. “When families are strong, the Church is strong. The two run parallel.”
There are many similarities and some differences in the way priesthood authority functions in the family and in the Church, he explained. All priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate keys.
“In contrast, the one who presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—exercises priesthood or parental authority in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys.”
Such “family authority” includes directing the activities of the family—family meetings such as home evenings, family prayer, teaching the gospel, and counseling and disciplining children. “It also includes ordained fathers giving priesthood blessings,” he said.
Church organizations such as wards and quorums always have geographic boundaries. In contrast, family relationships and responsibilities are not dependent upon where different family members reside. Church callings are always temporary, he added, while family relationships are permanent.
Elder Oaks said a most important difference is that the government of the family is patriarchal, while the government of the Church is hierarchical. A ward Relief Society president, for example, is presided over by a priesthood leader. They are not partners, “but fellow workers in an organization that is directed from above,” he said.
“As to partnership in the family, the family proclamation gives this beautiful explanation: While a father and a mother have separate responsibilities, ‘in these sacred responsibilities, [they] are obligated to help one another as equal partners.’”
Elder M. Russell Ballard, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles marked the 168th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith by speaking of the remarkable missionary companionship that existed between the two brothers.
“I know of no greater missionary companionship that has served in this dispensation,” he said on the final day of the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents. “Much can be learned by our missionaries in following the example of these prophets. They were men of integrity, loyalty, courage, trust, faith, and unwavering testimony.”
A descendant of Hyrum Smith, Elder Ballard focused his remarks on the Smith brothers and their final moments together leading up to their June 27, 1844, deaths at the hands of a mob at Carthage Jail.
“One hundred sixty-eight years ago today, almost to the very hour, these prophet brothers gave their lives and sealed their testament of all that God and Jesus Christ had revealed in restoring the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world,” Elder Ballard said. All who know of the great and eternal principles for which Joseph and Hyrum gave their lives surely must stand in awe of their courageous faith and be inspired by the “testimony of truth” that was sealed with their blood, he added.
Elder Ballard called Joseph and Hyrum Smith “men of peace, brothers, and missionary companions” who were bound by their love for God and each other.
“Although Hyrum was six years older, he recognized Joseph’s sacred and holy calling, and he stood by his younger brother faithfully throughout his life—and in death,” he said. The two brothers sustained and supported each other through dramatically difficult times, including unjust incarcerations and during their march to Zion’s Camp, where both were near death with cholera. “As a result of such experiences, Joseph came to depend upon Hyrum just as all missionaries should depend on one another,” said Elder Ballard.
During their service together, Joseph and Hyrum were able to face mobs and persecutions knowing they would eventually escape and return to their families. But at Carthage, the time had come for the two to voluntarily lay down their lives, sealing their testimonies with their blood.
“And so Joseph and Hyrum spent the last few days of their mortal lives together as prisoners in Carthage, brothers and missionary companions to the very end,” he said.
Years later, President Joseph F. Smith—the son of Hyrum Smith and a nephew to the Prophet Joseph—saw in a prophetic vision the two brothers continuing their missionary labors in the Lord’s kingdom.
“They stand together there, just as they stood together here and in Carthage,” said Elder Ballard. “In eternity they have joined forces with other prophets and patriarchs to complete their great and eternal work.”
Today the missionaries of the Church are called to go into the world to declare the message of the Restoration of the fulness of Christ’s gospel.
“No missionary should ever fail to understand and appreciate the great price others have paid to establish once again the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth. No assignment or challenge of any missionary should hold him or her back from boldly declaring the gospel truths that are ours to share,” Elder Ballard said. “Joseph was called to his work [D&C 1:17] by the Lord, just as you and your missionaries have been called to yours—by the Lord through His prophet.”
None of the missionaries serving today will be called upon to go through what Joseph and Hyrum did—but all can learn from these two powerful missionaries about how to support one another.
“All of your missionaries need to devote themselves to this great cause,” he said. “They can learn the power of the message of the Restoration. They can learn the attributes and skills that it takes to be fearless disciples of the Master. They can learn and practice the principles of success found in Preach My Gospel.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Latter-day Saints should know for a certainty the character of the Godhead, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 25.
“I am grateful for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in whose name the sacred and saving ordinances from baptism to sealing are performed in the Church,” said Elder Holland. “As you begin your missions, I invite each of you to know deeply these divine Beings under whose direction you were called, set apart, and now sent you forth to serve in Their name.”
Addressing the new mission presidents and their wives, and quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Holland asked them to become familiar with the Godhead, “having a correct idea of their individual perfections and attributes, and admiration for the excellency of their personal character.”
This charge to know and declare the truth about the Godhead would be an essential task in any era or circumstance, but it is even more so for at least two reasons pertaining to mission presidents and missionaries today, he explained.
The first emerges out of the Church’s rise from obscurity and darkness. “Our doctrine, our history, our practices, our people are being examined by the public as never before. … An increasing number of people are examining not myths and folklore and hearsay, but [are] actually discussing our doctrine. And that, of course, is exactly what we want!”
Elder Holland said the second reason missionaries need to know and teach this doctrine clearly is because as the Savior Himself taught, “the kingdom of heaven is like a net which we are throwing to a wider and wider world of nations, cultures, and people. As such, we are gathering, as the parable says, fish ‘of every kind’ (Matthew 13:47).
“And many of those ‘fish’ do not know who God the Father is nor what His Fatherhood is actually like, and quite often they do not know who Jesus Christ really is nor why His is the only name given under heaven whereby we may be saved; they do not know who the Holy Ghost is nor why it is that this member of the Godhead ‘was sent forth to teach the truth’ (D&C 50:14),” he said.
No investigator can come into this Church with a real testimony, with real conversion, with what we are seeking for and calling real growth in each convert, unless he or she is having a personal, private, spiritual experience with God, said Elder Holland. “That kind of experience can only come when there is the realization that He is a real being, an actual person, a literal Father of flesh and bone who speaks and sees and feels, who knows all His children’s names and needs, who hears all His children’s prayers and wants all His children in His Church.”
Elder Holland continued, saying that people investigating the Church also need help gaining a testimony of Jesus Christ and His preeminence in the plan of salvation, including His premortal role as Jehovah; His birth, life, and death; His atoning triumph over death and hell; His Resurrection unto eternal life; and such matters as why the holy priesthood bears His name and is the only authority given of God for the authentication of saving ordinances in time and in eternity. “Missionaries and members alike need to know what is required to be true disciples of Christ,” he said.
Finally, Elder Holland said those investigating the Church need to know that the Holy Ghost is the member of the Godhead with whom they will have their most frequent and the most intimate relationship if they will acknowledge His divine role and seek His companionship.
“No other promise of divine companionship is so universally available to each member of the Church, and yet we fear that some missionaries, many new converts, and even members of the Church generally may take this gift too lightly.”
Elder Holland reminded the mission presidents that the first words Latter-day Saints utter in declaration of their faith is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1:1).
“That is where we start, and if all goes well it will be in Their company that we end,” he said.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Bringing the Church out of obscurity goes beyond people knowing that the Church exists, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 25.
“It involves helping God’s children understand more fully what the Church stands for, what we do, and what we believe,” said Elder Cook. “As you go forth and share our core beliefs and the fruits of our doctrines, misperceptions will dissolve, prejudices will diminish, and people will come to see Latter-day Saints as devout disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Elder Cook said the word obscurity denotes something unknown or misunderstood. “While the vast majority of people have heard of ‘the Mormons,’ survey data tells us that relatively few understand Latter-day Saint beliefs. … While we are no longer unknown in many places, it’s increasingly evident that we are still misunderstood.”
He offered several suggestions to foster understanding and bring the Church out of obscurity.
Use the Church’s full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Nicknames can sometimes overwhelm and undermine the real objective,” he said, noting that for nearly two centuries members of the Church have been called Mormons because of the Book of Mormon.
“Though most people recognize members of the Church by this name, it conveys little of who we are,” he explained. “The name of the Church as given by revelation, however, conveys precisely who we are—followers of Jesus Christ, living in the latter times of the earth’s history and striving to be saints. “While in this Internet age we cannot avoid or dismiss the term Mormon, let us use every opportunity to place that revered full name of the Lord’s Church alongside whatever terms the world may attach to us.”
Explain how we follow Jesus Christ in both word and deed. Elder Cook asked Latter-day Saints to be bold in their testimony of Christ. “We should declare that we are Christians, though we are neither Catholic or Baptist, nor Lutheran or Methodist. Rather, we believe in a restoration of Christ’s ancient Church. As in apostolic times we too have apostles, prophets, and the priesthood—we are guided by revelation through the Spirit of God.
“We believe Jesus is the Savior of all people and the divine Son of our Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ—not Moses, Paul, or Joseph Smith—is the object of our devotion and worship.”
Elder Cook asked the mission presidents and their wives to explain this to those they meet. “Tell how we pray in Christ’s name, how we baptize by immersion, and how we partake of Christ’s sacrament. Then describe how we follow and worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in both word and deed. Show how we are Christian through our good works.”
Let your light so shine. The faith of Latter-day Saints is not passive belief, but translates itself into lives of purpose and meaning, said Elder Cook.
“I was struck recently by a writer who observed that other churches refer to their attenders as ‘the faithful.’ The Latter-day Saints use a different term. We refer to our members as ‘active.’ There is a world of difference. An active faith requires more than belief, or assent. We demonstrate that belief in the way we live our lives. Through community service and humanitarian projects we can serve others and help them understand how we follow Christ.”
Elder Cook said with pure heart and real intent Latter-day Saints can go forth with confidence to serve those in need. “As a people, if we follow this counsel, we can draw closer to Christ and, in turn, help others recognize the celestial fruits of Christ’s gospel.”
Elder Cook concluded that there is no more sacred service than being an emissary of the Lord Jesus Christ, calling upon all nations, and bearing record of Christ’s name. “I testify, alongside the prophet, seer, and revelator Joseph Smith, that ‘No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done’ (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 444).”
Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy
Speaking at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 24, Elder David F. Evans of the Seventy, Executive Director of the Missionary Department, focused on the importance of desire in missionary work.
He quoted Doctrine and Covenants 4:3: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.”
“Fundamental to the qualification of a missionary is the desire to serve God and help our Father in Heaven ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life’ (Moses 1:39) of His children,” he declared.
He said that when he served as a bishop he conducted many interviews as members contemplated missionary service. At the start of each interview, he asked, “Is serving a mission for the Lord the desire of your heart?” Once that question was squarely faced and answered, he said, he found that almost every other question could be properly addressed.
“The Lord has made clear that the desire to make sacred covenants with God and the desire to take upon one both the name and the work of our Savior Jesus Christ are required before one is qualified for baptism” (see Mosiah 18:8–10; D&C 20:37).
“This principle and quality of desire is not only applicable to missionaries, but also to those they teach and who come to be baptized and join the Church,” Elder Evans said.
The principle of desire, he said, is spelled out in the scriptures, as prophesied by the prophet Alma:
“I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according their desire ... I know that he allotteth unto men ... according to their wills” (Alma 29:4).
Elder Evans said, “If we desire something enough that is consistent with God’s will, He will allow us to achieve it. In fact, He will help us achieve it. Of course, the way we show this desire is through our actions and works, not just through our words, or our wishes, or even our prayers.”
He told of his call as president of the Japan Nagoya Mission in 1998. He had served as a missionary in Japan, but his wife, Mary, had never been there and didn’t speak the language. She prayed she would find a way to help with the work. As she walked near the mission home each morning, she said “Good morning” in Japanese. One day, an older man replied in English. As they conversed, she learned that he was a Church member but had not attended in a long time. Because of her desire to help with missionary work, the man returned to activity, received the blessings of the temple, and has faithfully served in the gospel for 14 years.
“Not only that, Mary’s willingness to open her mouth and talk to everyone led to a significant increase in the desire and willingness of our missionaries to do the same. Sisters, your example and your desires will help change and increase the desires of the missionaries in your mission.”
Elder Evans counseled mission presidents to:
“In order for real understanding to occur, you will need to not only teach the word, you will need to show these great young sons and daughters of God how to apply that doctrine in their lives and in their missions.”
Teach and help missionaries understand true doctrine.
Remember the importance and power of prayer.
“As I worked with individual missionaries on various problems, I almost always asked them to pray about what we discussed. Often it was as a missionary privately prayed and then acted with new resolve that the desires of his or her heart began to change and faith began to increase.”
Remember President Monson’s oft-repeated admonition that “youth [including missionaries] need fewer critics and more models.”
There are different ways to motivate, but criticism and harshness are not among the ways that lead to lasting change of heart and an increase in desire to do right, Elder Evans said.
Remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ was an act of love.
“It has always been and must always be love for the Father, and love for the Savior, and love for all of Heavenly Father’s children that motivates us and increases our desire to do this work.”
Bishop Gérald Caussé, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric
Despite cultural differences, the basic principles of successful missionary work are universal, said Bishop Gérald Caussé, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
Speaking during the 2012 Seminar for New Mission Presidents, Bishop Caussé said that as a member of the Europe Area Presidency he often searched for a winning formula that could be applied to all missions and make missionary work successful.
“In the course of my travels, I didn’t find a magic formula, personal method, or special program that could explain the results of such-or-such a mission,” he said. “Success in missionary work always finds its roots in the application of a few fundamental principles. These principles are very simple. It is in the constancy and perseverance in applying them that success is found in this beautiful work.”
Bishop Caussé said one humble mission president who had phenomenal growth in the number of baptisms in his mission explained the success this way: “In our mission we have great faith and we pray all the time.”
“The central and ultimate objective of the Church of Jesus Christ is to help all human beings one day return to live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, where we will be eternally happy,” he said. “Consequently, our task consists of inviting all men to qualify themselves to be washed and purified in the atoning blood of the Savior. The good news is that the path for coming to Christ is known. The path is called the good news, the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ. Jesus not only accomplished the immense gift of the Atonement but also gave us instructions on how to apply it.”
At the heart of this universal message are baptism of water and fire, he said. “We have a unique message for the world. We possess the true baptism,” he said. “Why do we sometimes hide it? Why be timid about such a glorious message? When missionaries approach people, they should, as quickly as possible, come to the announcements that the true ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost have been restored.”
Bishop Caussé said that after a person has accepted the invitation—or the possibility—of being baptized, he or she must commit to the preparatory work. Baptism can be truly effective only if it is preceded by faith and repentance.
Missionaries should strive to help their investigators experience the Atonement in their lives.
“To understand, to know, and to live the Atonement is an experience that investigators should have before their baptism,” he said. “It is the best guarantee that they will know how to remain faithful after baptism. The life of a member of the Church is not a long tranquil river. If new members don’t know how to exercise faith and to repent, they can fall and not know how to get back up.”
Concluding, Bishop Caussé invited the new mission presidents to invite their missionaries to put the doctrine of Christ at the very center of their efforts and their teachings.
“I believe that it is necessary to understand the principles of the gospel to be able to teach them,” he said. “Furthermore, it is necessary to live them. That is why the surest means you have to help your missionaries will be to help them live and experience these principles in their personal lives. Invite your missionaries to deepen their understanding of the Atonement. Invite them to exercise their faith. Teach them the principle of grace, which allows them to turn their weakness into strength. Invite them to claim the blessings of the Atonement by repenting each day.”