When I reflect on the condition of the world, when I witness the multitudinous problems that can be solved by the gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel to cry out as did Alma: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
“Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.” (Alma 29:1–2.)
From the time that Samuel Smith put a few copies of the newly published Book of Mormon into his knapsack and tried to distribute them in the communities of his area—even before the Church was organized—from that time until the present there has never been a season when this Church has not engaged in missionary work.
Nineteen hundred and eighty-six was a crowning year in this service. At the end of the year, 31,803 missionaries were serving and 216,210 converts had been baptized. If the average stake today is one of 2,500 members, that means that the equivalent membership of 86 new stakes came into the Church as converts during 1986—86 new stakes in 1986! That is a phenomenal and wonderful thing.
But all of us acknowledge that we have barely scratched the surface. We have a mandate laid upon us from which we cannot shrink. It is the charge from the Lord himself to teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. The field is white, but the laborers are relatively few.
You will recall that Alma gave up the judgment seat so that he might have time and strength for a greater work: “And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people … that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.” (Alma 4:19.)
For this same reason, the world today needs the power of pure testimony. It needs the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if the world is to hear that gospel, there must be messengers to teach it.
We ask that parents begin early to train their children. Where there is family prayer, where there are family home evenings, where there is scripture reading, where the father and mother are active in the Church and speak with enthusiasm concerning the Church and the gospel, the children in such homes become imbued in a natural way with a desire to teach the gospel to others. There is usually a tradition of missionary work in such homes. Savings accounts are set up while children are small. Boys grow up with a natural expectation that they will be called to serve as missionaries for the Church. A mission becomes as much a part of a boy’s program for life as is an education.
It is particularly gratifying to see the number of young men and women who are from areas other than the United States and Canada going on missions. For instance, in Asia there are 3,809 missionaries, of which 1,589, or 42 percent, are native Asians.
I have spent much time in Asia, and to me, these figures are wonderful. I recall talking years ago with a Japanese brother about his son going on a mission. The father replied that he could not think of his son’s taking time from school for a mission. The son did not go and has been the loser because of it.
I contrast that with the family of Brother and Sister Masao Watabe. I have known them for many years. Brother Watabe has served in many capacities in the Church in Japan. Today he is a patriarch.
They have not had much money, but they saved to make it possible for their children to serve missions. Masahisa went to Japan. He then completed his education and is an expert in ceramics. Masaji served in Japan and was educated there and in the United States, where he now works for a Japanese company. Masakazu served in Brazil, then earned a Ph.D. and is on the faculty of Brigham Young University. Masasue labored in the Fukuoka mission and is now in school in San Francisco.
In serving others through the great missionary cause, they have brought blessings into their own lives. And now today, as of this writing, the father and mother are serving their fourth mission, this one in the Taipei Taiwan Temple, where Brother Watabe is a counselor to the temple president and Sister Watabe is assistant to the matron. Where there is faith, there are miracles.
Along with the need for young elders and sisters, there is a growing need for couples in the mission field. Older married couples are doing a wonderful work in the missions. Many more are needed. Particularly we need those with foreign language abilities. They can serve in many responsibilities under the direction of sensitive and considerate mission presidents.
With an increasing number of people retiring while they are still possessed of health and vitality, there are many who can fill a tremendous need in the work of the Lord. However, we know that every couple is not in a position to go. Three qualifications should be observed.
(1) Candidates should have the means to sustain themselves. If their resources are limited, perhaps their children can assist. This happens in many cases, and both the parents and the children are blessed by the sacrifice made.
(2) They should not leave behind dependent children. Some of these children are at the most critical time of their lives when they need parents nearby.
(3) They should be in reasonably good health. Missionary work at best is rigorous and demanding. It requires strength and vitality. Of course, older couples are not expected to do everything young missionaries do. Some couple missionaries will proselyte, but many will not. Wise and inspired mission presidents will have their best interests at heart.
All of us who have met couple missionaries in various parts of the world have listened to their enthusiastic reports and their expressions of gratitude for the privilege of serving. I talked recently with a couple who were leaving for their third mission. They said they felt younger than when they had left for their first.
Now I wish to focus on a vital area wherein the understanding and assistance of all members are needed—stake missionary work. As you know, there should be a stake mission in every stake, unless there is a rather rare situation where there are few, if any, nonmembers and where all members are active. Stake missionaries are primarily finders. They cultivate their own contacts and help members fulfill their missionary responsibilities. Then, working closely with the full-time missionaries, stake missionaries refer prospective investigators to full-time missionaries to be taught by them.
After a convert’s baptism, stake missionaries are responsible for teaching the fellowshipping lessons to assist converts in making the tremendous adjustment that usually comes with baptism into the Church. That adjustment involves leaving old friends, old associates, and old ways. It involves repentance and commitment to better behavior. If we lose only one new convert, it is too great a loss. That loss can be avoided with well-organized stake missions whose missionaries and members work with the converts to assist them in becoming well-grounded in the faith.
Fifty-two years ago, I baptized a promising and wonderful young man. He was gifted and educated. He was sincere and prayerful. My companion and I taught him over a long period of time. We both left to return home after he had been baptized.
Our convert was a shy and sensitive young man. While still in the infancy of his membership, he was criticized for a small mistake that he had made in the responsibility he carried in the branch. His critic had a salty tongue and a short temper.
When the young man left the meeting that night, he never returned. He had been hurt and wounded by the thoughtless, cutting remark of a man his senior who should have known better.
I tried to keep track of this new convert through correspondence. But World War II came along. He entered the military service. After the war he married, and a while later his wife passed away, bringing a greater tragedy into his life. He rose in his vocation to become an executive of recognized capacity. He might have made a tremendous contribution to the Church, but an ugly scar remained from that wound suffered in a branch meeting many years earlier.
My companion, with whom I taught this good man, has passed away. I have done everything I know how to do to try to revive our friend’s faith. Thus far, it has been fruitless.
I occasionally reflect on the remarkable way in which we found him. I reflect on the many hours we spent teaching him. I reflect on the struggle he had within himself to make the right decision to be baptized. I reflect on his joy in having found the Church. And then I reflect on his loss. It need never have happened. It should never have happened.
Brethren and sisters of the Church, there must be warmth in the work of the Lord. There must be friendship. There must be love unfeigned. There must be appreciation and thanks expressed. There must be constant nurturing with the good word of God. All of these are small things, so easy to do, and they make so great a difference.
I have come to feel that the greatest tragedy in the Church is the loss of those who join the Church and then fall away. With very few exceptions it need not happen. I am convinced that almost universally those who are baptized by the missionaries have been taught sufficiently to have received knowledge and testimony enough to warrant their baptism. But it is not an easy thing to make the transition incident to joining this Church. It means cutting old ties. It means leaving friends. It may mean setting aside cherished beliefs. It may require a change of habits and a suppression of appetites. In so many cases it means loneliness and even fear of the unknown. There must be nurturing and strengthening during this difficult season of a convert’s life. A tremendous price has been paid for his or her presence in the Church. The long efforts of the missionaries and the cost of their service, the separation from old relationships and the trauma associated with all of this make it imperative that these precious souls be welcomed, reassured, helped in their times of weakness, given responsibility under which they may grow strong, and encouraged and thanked for all they do.
Who can question this great program of teaching the gospel to the world? It is the work of God. It results—or can result—in happiness for all who become the beneficiaries of its selfless service. It is as Paul said it would be when he wrote to Timothy, that young man of faith and works:
“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands. …
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Tim. 4:14, 16.)
Note the words, “Thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Is not this the story of missionary work? He who goes forth as a servant of the Lord saves himself. He grows in faith. He grows in capacity. He grows in understanding. He grows in love for the Lord.
He likewise blesses those who hear him. Every person in this Church, with rare exception, is a member because of missionaries who taught him or taught his forebears. Every person could stand and bear testimony and express appreciation for those who were the means of bringing to him or his forebears this work of salvation and eternal life.
May we all be blessed of the Lord in renewing our efforts to secure more laborers for the field, both young and older. May we all be blessed to assist the missionaries and love those who come into the Church as converts. By our faith and love, may we all take upon ourselves the work of the Lord and bear his name honorably and in deep appreciation for his blessings to us.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
The Lord has given the members of his church a mandate from which we cannot shrink—the charge to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
Parents should encourage their children to serve missions. Parents can help do this by having family prayers, home evenings, and scripture study, and by speaking with enthusiasm about the Church and the gospel.
There is a growing need for couples in the mission field. Retired couples and soon-to-be-retired couples should consider a mission and discuss its possibility with their bishop or branch president.
All members should take personal interest in helping new converts make the adjustments that follow baptism into the Church.
Relate your feelings about the role of missionary service in the Lord’s Church.
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?