Recently I sat by a man on an airplane. We began to converse and he asked what I did. I told him I was a Mormon missionary. He quickly retorted that he didn’t have much use for missionaries or others who went around “trying to get people to change their minds.”
I said, “Well, you’re a missionary!” He emphatically denied this and asked why I said he was. I told him that everything he did and said influenced others one way or the other, so he was a missionary for his way of life.
“For example?” he queried.
“Well,” I replied, “I see by the packet of cigarettes in your pocket that you believe in smoking. Your children see you smoking and are influenced to smoke also when they are able. You are thus doing missionary work for the tobacco people.”
“Heaven forbid!” he exclaimed. “I don’t believe in smoking and I’m certainly not going to let any of my children smoke. It’s a nasty death-dealing habit. …”
Needless to say, we had a very interesting discussion the rest of the trip. But the point here is: We are all missionaries. All of our words and actions have eternal consequences—for they influence not only ourselves, but others as well.
I remember a member commenting to me, “I can do lots of things in the Church, but I could never be a missionary.” (How many of us have said or felt the same thing?) My response is always the same. “But you are a missionary!”
Sometimes in the Church (and in the world also) the word “mission” connotes too narrow a view. For many people, “regular living” is one thing, and “missionary work” is another entirely separate thing. We need to widen the horizons of our vision.
We lived before we came here. We all took part in some way in the spirit world to be entitled to come to this earth. We all voted to follow our Heavenly Father’s plan as presented by his Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We all agreed to come on this earth mission at this time to fulfill the Lord’s plans for us.
We need to see all of life as one great mission with only certain specified times designated as “full-time mission time,” etc. In this light, we often get a clearer perspective of earth life at the beginning or end of it. Thus, at a blessing of a new child, we sometimes hear the phrase, “your mission in life is to bring comfort to others,” or at a funeral we hear, “his life’s mission seemed to be thus and so” or “his life’s mission is over.”
In its simplest terms, a mission is living with purpose—whether for good or bad.
The reason President McKay’s pronouncement, “Every member a missionary,” hits such a responsive and long-lasting chord in the Church and our lives is that it restates a basic eternal truth. We are indeed all missionaries—either for good or for bad, but missionaries nonetheless.
We must stop trying to separate missionary work from life. Missionary work is life—living is a mission; life is a mission; we are all on a lifelong mission. Our mission on this earth ends only when our life on this earth ends. (Actually, missionary work is forever because life is forever.)
Thus, it is not a question of whether or not we want to be missionaries. We have already decided that issue. We are alive; we are here; we are members. The only question is: What kind of missionaries will we be?