Missionary Work Begins at Home: A Conversation with Elder S. Dilworth Young, President of the First Council of the Seventy

S. Dilworth Young

Elder S. Dilworth Young

Ensign: Most Church members have probably observed the recent emphasis on missionary work, but for those who haven’t, and for those who would like to know more about it, what is the nature of the increased missionary thrust?

Elder Young: A little over a year ago, in April 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball gave his magnificent address on missionary work at a seminar for the Regional Representatives of the Council of the Twelve. The address was made into a film for all members of the Church to see, and you printed the address in the October Ensign with excerpts of it on the cover. That was very appropriate, because that talk is really a revelation to us right now. To me, this is living revelation to the Church today. It is the word from the mouthpiece of the Lord to us.

President Kimball has spoken both at the seminar and at general conferences on this same subject. He has called for us to “lengthen our stride.” He told us that the Lord has called for more missionaries, for more converts; and all this is based on the responsibility the Lord has always given to the Church and to all its individual members. He has repeatedly said the field is white, ready to harvest; go reap it. The Lord has made it clear that we must get busy and find the honest in heart who are around us. So, in 1974, the Lord reminded us through His prophet that we need to give more attention to the assignment to warn our neighbors, to find the honest in heart.

Ensign: It seems clear that the Brethren are laboring hard to call the attention of the members to their personal missionary responsibilities. Is this perception accurate?

Elder Young: Definitely! There is a tendency among many of us to think that as long as we have fulltime missionaries in the field we are taking care of our missionary responsibilities. But this alone does not fill out the picture. The Lord has told us that we all have missionary obligations. As an institution, the Church must have missionaries; as members, each of us has a personal calling to be a missionary.

If a person has a sincere testimony, he will want to share it with his friends and neighbors. He will want to broadcast it everywhere; he will be enthusiastic about it. He won’t want to hide his light under a bushel.

The fact is that the Lord has told every person to warn his neighbor—and that means many of us need to get busy. Simply because the Church has fulltime missionaries in the field does not relieve any individual member—not you, and not me—from the Lord’s commandment to personally tell others about the gospel.

Ensign: Let’s say that I’ve now received the message that I’m to share the gospel with others. Is there a ward or branch calling to help me in fulfilling my responsibility?

Elder Young: Yes. As a member, you should know you can share the gospel with anyone at any time; but you can do it in an organized way or in a disorganized way. Both ways can be productive, but there is greater likelihood of not integrating your converts into the Church if you share the gospel in a disorganized manner.

The organized manner of sharing the gospel consists of knowing how to use the Church’s structure. In every ward and branch there is a ward mission leader who helps in missionary efforts. This leader, in company with his fellow seventies, teaches the high priest group leaders and elders quorum presidencies the missionary methods of the Church; upon invitation, the mission leader may train all quorum members.

Ensign: What is family-to-family friendshipping?

Elder Young: Family-to-family friendshipping is being good neighbors. Being good neighbors is part of the second great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

If we as Latter-day Saints are living the gospel, we shall be concerned about a neighbor who is ill and minister unto him or render to the family whatever assistance seems appropriate. We shall be the first to welcome new families, to assist them in moving in, to help them become oriented to a new community, to help them feel welcome. Our children will help to integrate their children.

Family-to-family friendshipping is applying the Golden Rule. It is the gospel in action.

Ensign: Are there any special programs that the Church provides to members who are attempting to fulfill missionary obligations?

Elder Young: Yes. From time to time your ward mission leader should inform you that the ward or stake is having an open house for nonmembers. These may be held several times a year, and in case you have not yet introduced your nonmember friends, let’s call them the Smiths, to the Church, this might be a consideration for you. These open houses are something like mini visitors centers. They have displays and information and possibly even a film about the Church.

But you don’t have to wait for these occasional open houses to show the Smiths what the Church is like. Nearly all of the Church’s functions, activities, and meetings—from Primary to Relief Society, from Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women’s activities to ward banquets—are appropriate places to bring nonmembers. We hope that much of what we do in the Church is organized in such a way that it is a missionary opportunity, that you can bring nonmember friends and, by seeing these activities, they will also become interested in participating.

Ensign: What if, at some stage in my efforts with the Smiths, I think I need a missionary pamphlet on a gospel subject. How do I obtain one?

Elder Young: Your ward mission leader is your helper. He can supply you with the literature that you feel you need as you begin to interest the Smiths in the gospel.

Ensign: How do we let a family like the Smiths know about the Church’s family home evening program?

Elder Young: Introducing the family home evening program is a very good idea for many reasons. One reason is that the father isn’t the head of the house in many of the world’s families. The gospel teaches that the father is the head of the house, and family home evening installs him and magnifies his presiding concern for his family’s welfare.

It would open a new world to the Smiths if you were to invite them to a special home evening with your family, using it as an example of how the Church teaches us to grow closer together, talk together, play games together, pray together, sing together, and enjoy each other’s company. But you should remember that you should not hold such a home evening on a Monday night. Monday is the time for your own sacred family home evening, and you must not put that night aside for the sake of another family. You must not neglect the souls in your own house; you need to talk with them, discuss gospel application in their own lives. They are your first responsibility.

After you have had the Smiths over for a special family home evening, they may express the desire to begin such a program in their own family. At that point either you or the ward mission leader could hold another family night with the Smiths, showing the father how he could preside as family head.

Ensign: What happens when the Smiths want to know more about the Church? Do I automatically call the ward mission leader, or is he only my line of defense when I feel I need more help than I can give?

Elder Young: Your question indicates that you are beginning to understand your responsibility. Since the Lord has recognized that all of us won’t have the time to be masters of all things, he has provided the Church with specialists to assist you in your responsibilities. These include ward missionaries when and if you need them. You will know when to call the missionaries if you seek inspiration. When you feel the time is right for this move, call your ward mission leader and inform him that the Smiths want to know more about the gospel and have agreed to meet with the missionaries.

Perhaps the first meeting could be held in your home, where you and your family can bear testimony. This step is called the referral.

Ensign: We used to hear a great deal about referrals. Is there a desire to put increased emphasis on the referral?

Elder Young: Yes, but not in the way it has been traditionally thought of. Just giving the name of a nonmember to the ward mission leader is not a referral. A referral involves your kindling interest in a friend until he wants to know more. I heard a humorous story about that.

Recently a father and his small daughter got on a plane and couldn’t sit together. The little girl sat on the aisle, and a big heavy man sat by the window next to her. She asked him, “What do you know about the Mormons?” He didn’t think much harm could come from talking to a little girl, so he said, “Not very much. Why?” She asked, “Would you like to know more?” In the interest of pursuing a conversation with this little girl, he said, “Yes.” She said, “Wait a minute, and I will get my dad.”

Ensign: Does the Church have a program to teach all members their responsibilities in missionary work?

Elder Young: We have our conferences and our meetings where the missionary message is continually preached. We publish the Ensign, where members can read and examine and ponder the details. And to assist the members in changing their old habits and putting on the new habits of the gospel, the Church has produced some new films and filmstrips to train members.

First, in an effort to learn about missionary responsibilities, the message of President Kimball, “Go Ye into All the World,” is presented as a motion picture. Next, we have produced three filmstrips to help train members and leaders: first, “I Need a Friend,” a filmstrip suggesting how all members may participate in the “new move-in” activity; second, “Sharing the Gospel,” a two-part filmstrip for members and leaders—part A is for members and part B is for leaders; and third, “Preparing Missionaries,” a filmstrip for priesthood leaders, suggesting ideas for better preparing potential missionaries.

You can ask your ward missionary leader or ward librarian for these filmstrips; they suggest a number of good ideas and open up valuable areas for family discussion.

Ensign: You mentioned raising missionary-minded children. What are some of the things you would say to parents about raising sons to go on a mission?

Elder Young: There certainly isn’t much point in us doing all of this missionary work if we don’t teach our children and families to follow through for the next generation. President Kimball said the Lord needs more qualified, worthy missionaries, missionaries burning with a desire to share the gospel.

If I were a parent, I would start at a very early age to tell my children stories about missionaries. I would he!p my sons save money for a mission. I would let my sons realize that it is not a case of deciding whether or not they want to go on a mission versus going on to school or work, but a question of how they will respond to the call from the Lord. Is your son going to debate about it with himself, with the bishop, or with his parents, or is he going to accept the Lord’s call?

In my opinion, the greatest excitement for a boy is to hear stories of hardship concerning missionary work. There is nothing in this world as exciting as hardship. Get a group of boys together and take them hiking in a rugged area. Tell them the mountain you are going to hike is rough, and if they hike it they will succeed in this goal, that they will become men; tell them that it is going to make them sweat, and that they’ll hurt all over. But tell them that if they complete the hike, they will remember it forever, and the boys will line up for the hike.

It’s the same with missionary work. Tell your sons about the early missionaries—how they traveled without purse or scrip, how some were mobbed, how the Lord intervened to preserve their lives, and how the honest in heart responded when they heard the gospel message. If you relate these stories, you will have any boy want to be a missionary, want to work with the Lord in the battle of carrying truth to the ends of the earth. A boy wants something challenging, something of value, something that benefits others. He wants to know God our Father and be a full partner with him in his work. With family prayers and parental inspiration concerning their sons, parents can help build missionary fervor in their sons until the sons have no doubt about serving the Lord. Of course, it is easy to see that a family that is constantly friendshipping neighbors and friends is showing the finest example of missionary work and demonstrating their regard for it. In this manner, a child is able at an early age to see the joy the gospel brings to those who accept it.

Ensign: What about learning languages and other skills prior to a mission call?

Elder Young: First, every child has the right to be taught social amenities. Every boy ought to learn how to be polite, how to handle himself when visiting others, proper table manners, the etiquette of standing when women or older men come into a room, and the manners of his country and those peculiar to his culture. This is fundamental. Tragically, some of our missionaries don’t have this knowledge. Some years ago we had 13 missionaries who had just arrived at the mission home. They were at the dinner table and halfway through the meal when one of the elders suddenly stood up, yawned, stretched his arms high over his head, sat back down, and continued eating. Social courtesies must be taught early and consistently in the home.

It is also good to study and learn a language, but it does not mean that the missionary will be sent to a land where that language is spoken. The most important thing is that he has learned a language. That means that he can learn another language. We give potential missionaries a test to see if they are able to learn a language. The young man with four years of successful study of Spanish can probably learn Japanese quicker than a boy who has had no language at all. Our concern is not whether a potential missionary knows a language, but whether or not he can learn one.

Ensign: Are there any other aspects of the ward missionary program that you would like to comment on?

Elder Young: It is extremely important that the Saints throughout the Church know about the financial needs of the missionary program. In financial terms we have two divisions of missionaries: first, there are missionaries who have saved enough for their mission or who, with the help of their parents or quorums, can handle their mission call; second, there are missionaries in other countries where neither the missionary nor his parents nor even his quorums are able to supply all of the necessary finances. In these cases, after the missionary, his parents, and his quorum have done all that they can for his support, the Seventies quorums and others of the Church try to fill in the remaining needed amount. Thus, there is a great need for financial assistance to the Church missionary program. We hope that every family will want to be contributing to someone’s mission. If a family lives in the mission field, such support could mean inviting the missionaries to dinner on occasion, thus cutting down the missionaries’ food costs. Many families might consider adding a regular amount to the missionary fund when they pay their tithes and offerings. Other persons, some who are retired, could not only consider fulfilling a mission themselves, but should consider financially supporting someone else. After their basic financial needs have been met, they might ask themselves: Is not all that I have from the Lord? How can I help him? Does he need some of it now?

Ensign: It seems very clear that all of us are to be much, much more missionary-minded than we have been. Do you have any closing counsel about getting started?

Elder Young: Just get started! How many times do we need to be shown and told? What can you do in your own neighborhood?

I think that when the Lord has pointed the direction through President Kimball, we need to put our shoulders to the wheel. All of us must make the effort and realize that “every member is a missionary.” The Lord has asked it of us. And he means it. He has said that the field is white, ready to harvest. I know how I want to respond at judgment day when asked about this matter; I’m sure you do, too.