Warming Our Neighbors


Those of us who have the blessings of the gospel also have the privilege of accepting the challenge set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 88:81: “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.” [D&C 88:81] President Spencer W. Kimball has said that this challenge is a commandment: “It is not left to our discretion or to our own pleasure or to our convenience.” (Ensign, Dec. 1980, p. 65.)

Although we realize that we have the solemn responsibility of sharing the gospel, many of us are reluctant to do so because we feel we really don’t know how. Our main concern is how to go about obeying this command to “warn” our neighbor—how to share our testimony in ways that will be enlightening and inspiring, not imposing or offensive.

President Kimball has given some very helpful direction: “It should be clear to us,” he said, “that usually we must warm our neighbors before we can warn them properly. Our neighbors must experience genuine friendship and fellowship. We want members to entreat neighbors, not to scold them or to scare them.” (Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 140.)

In many ways, our professions, interests, hobbies, and activities lend themselves to a good many “warming” opportunities. If we live so that the Holy Ghost is with us as our constant daily companion, sharing the gospel can flow forth from us in a most comfortable and natural way.

“Lift up your voices unto this people,” the Lord counsels; “speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say. … And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.” (D&C 100:5–6, 8.)

I have found that the involvement of Church members in community programs, such as those centering on physical activity, nutrition, and drug education, can greatly promote clean living and thereby “warm” nonmembers into being more receptive to the Holy Ghost. In a very real sense, we can prepare people to receive the gospel when the missionaries knock on their doors.

Some time ago, officers of the Health Education Major’s Club at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, with the agreement of the adviser, who was an active member of the Church, decided to put a health code in the club’s bylaws: Two officers of the club who were nonmembers at that time are now active members of the Church.

To ask people in difficulty if they have prayed about their concerns also provides an avenue for “warming” nonmembers to the Spirit. When I asked a university student if she had prayed about a personal concern, she responded, “I don’t even know how to pray.” It was a most satisfying experience to be able to teach her the four simple steps. Six months later, she asked more about the Church. Later she was taught by the missionaries.

On another occasion I received the assignment to find a student to give the prayer at the Sunday morning devotional of a national convention. One week after I assigned someone, she returned saying she did not know how to compose a prayer, and her mother didn’t feel she could assist her. I offered to help her. We discussed why we address prayer to our Father in Heaven and close in the name of Jesus Christ. Then I asked her to think of some things for which she could ask. Our meeting that day closed with a prayer based on those four steps. What a wonderful experience it was to hear her offer a beautiful prayer in her own words at the devotional for that national convention, and to respond to her further questions about the gospel.

In a graduate course I was taking while working on my doctor’s degree, I had the opportunity to choose and research a western university for presentation to the class. I chose Brigham Young University, and my presentation prompted vigorous class discussion on the Church. I was most interested when doctrinal questions were answered by nonmembers who seemed very enthusiastic and knew a lot about the Church. After the first half hour, the instructor closed the discussion saying that it wasn’t appropriate to continue but further questions could be asked after class. No referrals were made on that particular occasion, but a spirit of warmth was present. And I felt a good deal of satisfaction in attempting to fulfill the responsibility of member-missionary work.

“Warming” our neighbor is a natural sequel when we get a nonmember or an inactive member involved with us in Church service. A Relief Society visiting teacher who gets an inactive sister to assist her in giving service to another is “warming” in a most effective way. For example, a university student in Virginia responded with enthusiasm when she was asked to provide musical numbers for a missionary sacrament service. Her family and five other university students who came with her were touched by the warmth of the gospel during the meeting, and they remained to view the film The First Vision. A university student in Wisconsin who accepted an invitation to sing in a duet in one meeting and to play in a piano-organ duo in another meeting is now a member of the Church.

It may be easier for a leader to depend only on the active Church members, but many who have much to contribute are overlooked. Six out of eight people who were asked to assist with an assignment in one particular stake were inactive in the Church at the time they were called. Their contribution of both talent and time proved to be an especially satisfying experience. Three of those six members filled missions for the Church and three were married in the temple.

A team approach can greatly enhance member-missionary work. During December 1978 on a trip West, I had an opportunity to share the gospel with a fine gentleman from Germany. When we got off the plane in Salt Lake City, he reminded me to keep my promise to send him a copy of the Book of Mormon. When I mailed one to him, I sent a copy of the letter to Elder Theodore M. Burton, the General Authority who was Area Supervisor in Germany at that time, and he, in turn, asked the appropriate mission president to send missionaries. Through a series of the “family not being home” situations and missionary transfers, however, contact was lost. But because of careful follow-up, this oversight was corrected and missionaries were sent again. About January of 1980, I received word that the family was being taught by the missionaries. During this time I received progress letters from the mission which greatly facilitated my correspondence with this family.

If we wish the Holy Ghost to direct us in our missionary efforts, we must act on the thoughts he gives us. A student at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse with whom I had had some conversation about the Church had graduated, married, and moved to an adjoining state. She had been living there for about a year before I decided to heed persistent thoughts to write a letter inviting both her and her husband to learn more about the Church. About two months later, they visited me saying that the letter had arrived just as they had been investigating other churches in an effort to fill a void in their lives. Soon the missionaries taught them the gospel; they have now been sealed in the temple and are a strength to the Rochester Ward in Minnesota.

While teaching in Wisconsin, I sometimes had students who did not ask about the Church but with whom I felt I should share the gospel. I kept a list of their names and home addresses in the back of my Book of Mormon. When I moved to a university in Virginia, I was then able to send each of those students in Wisconsin a copy of the Book of Mormon with a letter. I also forwarded a copy of the letter to the missionaries. Referrals were made in this same manner with some of the principals and teachers in the public schools with whom I had worked in student-teacher supervision.

“The Lord has not limited the opportunity for missionary service to only a few,” Elder Adney Y. Komatsu has said, “but it is available to everyone.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 28.) Missionary work is available to every member of the Church and is a natural result of living the gospel daily, prayerfully asking our Father in Heaven to bless us with the direction of the Holy Ghost. Surely, “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor”—and to warm them in natural, friendly ways.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “Warming Our Neighbors” you may wish to discuss some of the following ideas and questions during a gospel study period.

1. Review the several different ways the author suggests for doing missionary work among our neighbors.

2. What does the author suggest is the major key to “warming” our neighbors into living the gospel?

3. How can you take advantage of natural opportunities with nonmembers and inactive members to introduce them to the gospel?

4. Why is it so important that we act immediately on the thoughts that come into our minds and hearts concerning sharing the gospel with nonmembers and those who are inactive?

[photo] Photography by Eldon Linschoten

Le Etta (Lee) Pratt is an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University/ Medical College of Virginia. She serves as a Sunday School teacher and ward organist in her Richmond, Virginia, Ward.