I rejoice at what is occurring in the great missionary efforts of the Church. This work of teaching the gospel to others was the first responsibility laid upon the Prophet Joseph Smith in the opening of this dispensation. It must never be removed from that preeminent position. The last recorded words of the Lord to His disciples before he ascended were:
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:19–20.)
I am tremendously excited about what is happening in our time. In 1985, there were 197,640 converts baptized. That is a larger number of members than comprised the total population of the Church after its first fifty years!
Assuming that the average stake now being created has about 2,500 members, enough people came into the Church in 1985 to create seventy-nine new stakes. This is truly a remarkable thing.
But a convert is not simply a figure on a page of statistics. A convert is a man, or a woman, or a child. A convert is a living soul into whose life has come new knowledge, light, and understanding.
Converts are those who have been taught and have accepted the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They are those into whose hearts has come a new faith and into whose minds has come a new understanding. They are those into whose lives has come a new desire to live up to higher standards of behavior. They are those who have come to know a new happiness and an enlarged circle of friends. They are those whose sights have been raised to a new understanding of the eternal purposes of God. Converts are tremendously important because they are men, women, and children who have repented of past ways and adopted new patterns of living.
There likely will be more than 200,000 converts in 1986. How much more wonderful if this gospel had touched the lives of an additional 50,000—or an additional 100,000! Yet I am one who believes that this is well within our reach.
Most of those converts came from the labors of our missionaries, and it is gratifying to know that at the close of 1985, there were 29,265 in the field or under call. By the end of 1986 we estimate there will be just over 30,000 missionaries in the field.
It follows that if we have more missionaries, there will be more converts. It also follows that if missionaries are better prepared, they will be more effective.
To me, missionaries are a constantly renewing miracle. During the years of my ministry as a General Authority, I have had opportunity to meet with them across the earth. They are much the same everywhere. For the most part they are young—handsome young men and beautiful young women. They are vital and alive and enthusiastic in their work. They are not easily daunted or discouraged, although they know discouragement from time to time and in a very real way. They are dedicated and committed to the work to which they have been called. They are led and directed and inspired by a great body of mission presidents whom they come to love almost as they love their own fathers. They fortify one another and develop wonderful associations—friendships that continue throughout their lives. They have been called by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, and their devoted efforts bring a constant infusion of new blood and new life into the Church.
Furthermore, young men and women who serve missions are never the same. They return home with qualities and strengths that seem to come from no other experience. They know, as they never knew before, that this work is true and that it is the most important work on the face of the earth. They return home with a desire to continue to serve. They have established a foundation on which to grow in future responsibilities.
We need more missionaries. We could use another ten thousand now. Anyone who feels we have enough knows not whereof he speaks. I remember listening to reports from the Area Presidencies of the various international areas of the world. Those reports indicated the magnitude of the work we must do. For instance, in one area we have only 270,000 members out of a total population of 640,000,000. “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” (Matt. 9:37.) Now, brethren and sisters, what can we do?
I am one who believes that missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility. While many young women perform a tremendous service in the field, some more effectively than the elders, the basic responsibility lies with our young men. We must point our young men toward missionary service earlier, and we must prepare them better.
Some years ago I attended a stake conference in a rural area. We were emphasizing missionary work in the Saturday evening meeting. An eighteen-year-old farm boy with freckles on his nose and a winning smile on his face was asked to tell what he had done to get ready for a mission. He listed ten things that had helped him. Here is his list:
“1. First and most important, I have had great parents to help me. They have encouraged me to go on a mission for as long as I can remember. They have helped me to save money for this purpose.
“2. I have attended church. I have learned many wonderful lessons that have helped me to understand the meaning of the gospel.
“3. I have been in Scouting for seven years. I am an Eagle Scout. I have been taught to ‘be prepared.’ I have repeated many times the Scout oath, ‘To do my duty to God and my country.’
“4. I have earned a Duty to God Award. I know that this duty includes sharing the gospel with others.
“5. I am the priest quorum assistant. I work directly under my bishop, who is my quorum president. Ever since I was a deacon my bishop and his counselors have interviewed me and have spoken about my going on a mission. They have helped give me a vision of what a great opportunity and responsibility it is to serve the Lord as a missionary.
“6. I have attended seminary, where I have studied the gospel. I have had wonderful teachers and friends. I have read and studied the Book of Mormon, and I know it is the word of God.
“7. I have been a Primary teacher. This has been a great challenge. I have a small class of boys and girls who are not always easy to handle, but I love them and they know it. We are learning together.
“8. I have taken part in family home evenings from the time I was a child. My family and I have prayed together, sung together, and read the scriptures together. We have made plans together concerning our lives and the things we want to do.
“9. I have tried to live a clean life. There have been temptations; but I have a goal to go on a mission, and I want to be worthy to go. I decided a long time ago that I don’t need to drink beer, I don’t need to smoke, I don’t need drugs, and I don’t need to get mixed up in immorality.
“10. I have responsibilities in school to lead and serve. I am a student-body officer. I enjoy it, I am growing from it, and I have made many wonderful friends because of it.”
This boy concluded by saying: “I have enjoyed the story of Ammon in the Book of Mormon. He fought the robbers and protected the sheep. While others, who had run from the robbers, were bragging to the king, Ammon was down with the horses. He did what he was supposed to do when he was supposed to. If we do this and pray for help, we will be ready.”
I have never heard a better summary of missionary preparation. It outlines in a very realistic way the preparation that should begin in childhood and continue consistently until a young man is ready to receive a call.
That call will bless the missionary’s life, and the lives of those who hear him. And there are others whose lives are blessed when a missionary serves, such as the members of his family who in most cases support him, pray for him, and try to live worthy of him. I think everyone who has ever sustained a missionary can testify of the great good that comes to a family when a son or daughter goes into the mission field.
If we are to increase substantially the number of missionaries, we must begin the preparation process early. That process begins with parents. I wish to discuss four phases of preparation for missionary service: (1) Spiritual preparation; (2) mental preparation; (3) social preparation; (4) financial preparation.
A missionary’s spiritual preparation will be strengthened by better family home evenings, by improved teaching in the Aaronic Priesthood and auxiliary organizations, by attendance at seminary and institute, by going to the temple to be baptized in behalf of the dead, by encouragement to read the Book of Mormon. Every boy would benefit from reading the account of the sons of Mosiah. Concerning them the record states:
“Now these sons of Mosiah … had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2–3.)
Mental preparation. Bishoprics need to be diligent and prayerful as they conduct personal interviews with boys, beginning when the boys are deacons. Let bishoprics give encouragement in the direction of missionary service. Let them help these young men shape their minds and thoughts to face the rigors of missionary service, to make the needed cultural adjustments incident to missionary work in many lands, to surrender themselves wholeheartedly to missionary service when they are called. Obviously, parents should undergird all of these matters with wise and inspired counsel on the same points.
Social Preparation. Let us teach our young people with counsel and love the importance of keeping themselves clean and worthy to represent the Lord as His ambassadors before the world. Let us encourage wholesome social activities, and let our youth learn the great art of getting along with others. While in the mission field they will have companions with whom they will be obliged to work. They must be able to look for the good in those companions and to draw from the lives of others virtues to incorporate into their own lives.
Financial Preparation. Missions have become costly. The average expense today is $250 a month, which means approximately $6,000 for a period of two years. The time to start saving is when boys are very young. Let those savings be kept in safe accounts and not be placed in speculative ventures. The young man to whom I referred earlier had saved money to finance his mission. Many of our young men have done so. Many could do much more.
One of the most significant things that has happened in the past few years is the large increase in the number of young men and women who go into the mission field from areas other than the United States and Canada. In one of the international areas, 75 percent of those serving are serving in their own lands. This is most heartening. I know of no better way to teach the gospel and at the same time to build strength and stability for the future. Such a missionary has a running start because he speaks the language of his people and he understands their culture.
We urge adherence to the rule of missionary support which has been in effect from the beginnings of the Church—namely, that it is the responsibility of the individual and the family to provide support for the missionary. This must be encouraged, even though there may necessarily be some delay in departure. Better that a young man delay his mission for a year and earn money toward his support than that he rely entirely on others.
But because of economic conditions in some lands, it is not possible for some young men and women to serve without some financial help. Wards and quorums should then help to the extent possible. The balance may come from the general missionary fund comprised of the contributions of Church members. We encourage members to contribute to the general missionary fund, where it is appropriate and possible for you to do so. This fund has made it possible for thousands of our young men and women to serve. Without it, thousands will be unable to do so.
With every such contribution comes a blessing promised by the Lord. Said He concerning those who assist missionaries:
“And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward.
“And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples.” (D&C 84:90—91.)
With renewed emphasis, let us urge missionary service as well as help to missionaries as a duty and a responsibility. The mandate of the Lord is upon us. It is our responsibility to carry the gospel to the people of the earth. Marvelous things are happening. Yet more wonderful things can be brought to pass. May we be faithful in building the kingdom we love and in doing the will of Him who is our Savior and who commanded us to teach the gospel.
At this time of the year, when the thoughts of so many turn to the birth and life of the Lord and the sharing of gifts, let us each do something to share the greatest gift we can give anyone—the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let each of us participate in missionary service in some way at this Christmas season. Let us be bearers of love and peace to all mankind.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
The work of teaching the gospel to others is a preeminent responsibility of the Church and its members.
More missionaries are needed.
Better prepared missionaries are needed.
Those who go on missions need to prepare in four ways: (1) spiritually, (2) mentally, (3) socially, and (4) financially.
1. Relate your personal feelings about missionary work.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?