Many years ago, my missionary companion and I were walking through a badly lighted section of a small jungle town in southern Mexico rather late one night, picking our way along the border of the railroad track since there was no sidewalk. We’d just finished a meeting with some investigators and were on our way home. Suddenly, we heard the terrifying sound of rocks thudding around us, and instinctively brought our briefcases up to shield our heads from our unseen assailants.
I still remember the surge of adrenalin and the brassy taste of fear in my mouth as rocks pelted that briefcase, and the thought flashed through my mind, “Is all this worth it?” I wasn’t really praying, but I got an answer as vivid and unmistakable as any I’ve ever received in my life: “Yes. You are a servant of the Lord.” The fear vanished, replaced by confidence—by more than confidence, by joy and rejoicing. Our briefcases were dented from the rocks, but not so much as a pebble touched our bodies.
That experience with physical fear and the reassurance of the Spirit has come back to me many times when I’ve felt other kinds of fear connected with missionary work: the fear of being rejected, the fear of causing hard feelings, the fear of losing friends, the fear of risking my social position, even the fear of losing my job. These fears are very real and must be turned into faith before we can successfully share the gospel with others.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to proselyte with one of our fine elders, a blessing that comes all too rarely to a mission president. We spotted a man who looked like a mature, responsible individual and walked up to him. My fearless companion stepped right up, offered his hand, and introduced both of us as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as representatives of the Savior. The conversation was pleasant and purposeful. That elder told him that we had an important message about eternal things to teach him and his family, and made an appointment for the same evening.
Sometimes we feel external pressure to be missionaries—and having the mission president along might be quite a bit of external pressure to some missionaries—but I could tell that this elder’s approach was deeply sincere. I discussed it with him afterwards and he said, with the same sincerity, “It’s never been hard at all President, once I realized who I was and who I was working for.”
In one simple phrase that missionary summarized the principle for changing fear into faith that will work for all of us—nineteen-year-old elders or member missionaries. Let me discuss how to put that principle into practice:
1. Be prepared. This is the Lord’s own instruction: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) Elder Thomas S. Monson amplified: “Preparation will dispel that hidden and insidious enemy who lurks within and limits our capacity, destroys our initiative and strangles our effectiveness. The enemy of whom I speak is fear. A fear to wholeheartedly accept our calling. A fear to provide direction to others. A fear to lead, to motivate, to inspire.” (Pathways to Happiness, Deseret Book, 1973, p. 73.)
Preparation includes the following elements: having a knowledge of the gospel, having a strong testimony, loving our fellowmen, studying the scriptures with love and comprehension, and having faith that the Lord will bless us when the time comes to bear witness of him. Does this sound like a lifetime project? It is, but fortunately we can get our preparation on the job, each step leading to the next and making our faith stronger.
2. Realize the nature of the opposition. The Lord does not want us to fear; he desires that we have faith in him. The Adversary, on the other hand, will do whatever he can to exaggerate our feelings of personal inadequacy. Each time you feel hesitancy in yourself, each time you recognize fear, you have recognized the presence of evil.
3. Drive it out with faith. In the instant that you recognize fear, turn from it by turning to the Lord in prayer. This doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring the fear; it means that you’re treating it exactly as fear should be treated—by turning it over to the Lord, who has the power to change our feelings and to give us his Holy Spirit.
4. Continue in prayer. Prayer isn’t just therapy for moments of weakness—it’s a way of life. I know from my own experience that when I’ve prayed for righteous desires I quite honestly didn’t yet have that the Lord rewarded that honesty by blessing me with courage—no, with more than courage. I have found myself desiring, literally yearning, for the opportunity to bear testimony and feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunities that presented themselves to share my testimony of the Savior.
5. Set goals in the spirit of prayer. There’s something almost miraculous about what happens when we focus our will and our desires on a goal. I suspect that it may have something to do with agency; as long as we only have vague ideas of what we want to do, we hamper heavenly forces from helping us. On the other hand, when we know exactly what we want to do in righteousness, the channel is open for spiritual help beyond our own powers. In all solemnity and reverence, I truly believe that angels attend us in the performance of our righteous callings—are anxious and eager to help us when we give them the opportunity.
This is how goal-setting in missionary activities might work: Identify the person or family with whom you want to share the gospel. Tell the Lord, very specifically, of the ways you might share the gospel with this person or family. Will it be in the office? during a visit to his home? during the next encounter? Pray fervently for the Lord to guide you when that moment occurs so that the Holy Ghost can have an opportunity to work with you in presenting the gospel. I promise you that your faith will be rewarded, that the Spirit will fill your heart, and you will achieve your desires.
Those who have had this experience will know what I mean when I talk about the joy that will come. There is a joy in bearing testimony and feeling the Holy Ghost corroborate that testimony that surpasses my ability to describe it. It’s a joy that, in many cases, has nothing to do with the results. Even if your testimony is rejected, the sweetness of that joy is inexpressibly consoling and leaves no room in your heart for fears to make you wonder if bearing your testimony in the first place was wrong.
One of the beautiful things we’ve observed in Peru is how joy radiates from our missionaries and member missionaries who have developed that fearless faith. Recently, two young missionaries laboring together in the small city of Sicuani in southern Peru were searching for a building in which to hold a “Mormon Fair.” Checking out a small school, they inadvertently interrupted a lecture that a local communist leader was giving to a large group of students in their early 20s. After they had introduced themselves and explained their purpose, the leader immediately began denouncing United States imperialism. Courteously avoiding a political discussion, the missionaries endeavored to explain their religious purpose. The leader shifted his attack to religions in general, the young men in the room laughing and cheering him on.
Then one of the elders firmly and powerfully bore testimony that he was a true servant of Jesus Christ and represented the only true Church upon the face of the earth. The other elder’s testimony followed his. This is what they said happened: “By the time we had both finished with our testimonies, which were given very powerfully, there was complete silence throughout the whole room. After a minute of silence we thanked them and excused ourselves. When we were outside the building, we heard a few chuckles, but we knew and felt in our hearts that they had received a strong witness of the truth.” That conviction made the experience one that they were both grateful for, despite its unpleasantness. But the story doesn’t end there. Later, five of the young men present came up to them on the street and asked to know more. The reason? They had felt something that they had never experienced before in their lives and wanted to know why.
With all my heart I know that missionary work is the Lord’s work and that he will stand beside us as our companion in time of need to teach us what we need to say in order to accomplish his errand. He has given us his promise and I glory in it: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.” (D&C 68:6.)