I’m Afraid to Talk to My Neighbor about the Church Because …


Overcoming fear as a member missionary.

I became more and more uncomfortable during our first member-missionary class in Sunday School while the teacher talked about the importance of the work.

“‘Every member a missionary,’” he quoted. And then he continued: “Eighty percent of the convert baptisms in our mission come from member referrals. One part of the threefold mission of the Church is to teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Brothers and sisters, we need to learn to open our mouths and share the gospel!”

His words weren’t new to me; I had heard them many times and believed them to be true. I had invited a nonmember friend to a social function in the ward, and I do enjoy talking about the Church when it comes up in casual conversation.

So why was I feeling uncomfortable? Why was I too nervous to give a nonmember a copy of the Book of Mormon, share my testimony with someone, or invite someone to meet the missionaries?

Feeling discouraged after that first class, I sat down to analyze my feelings. I tried a technique my husband and I frequently use in our marriage:

  1. 1.

    “I’m afraid to give a copy of the Book of Mormon to nonmembers because …”

  2. 2.

    “I’m afraid to share my testimony with nonmembers because …”

  3. 3.

    “I’m afraid to invite nonmembers to meet the missionaries because …”

Finishing those sentences helped me to identify my fears and take the first step toward a remarkable change in my life. As I studied the scriptures and words of living prophets and went to the Lord in prayer, my fear turned to confidence. By the end of that six-week class, I had given away seven copies of the Book of Mormon, shared my testimony with two nonmembers, and invited neighbors into our home to meet the missionaries.

Giving Away a Copy of the Book of Mormon

1. “I’m afraid to give a copy of the Book of Mormon to nonmembers because …

—religion is a private matter, and I don’t want to offend them.”

—they might think I’m strange.”

—they might think all I care about is that they join the Church, and that our friendship isn’t really important to me.”

—it might hurt a friendship because I might seem pushy.”

—I’m a housewife and don’t have many opportunities to give away copies of the Book of Mormon.”

My attitude changed when I realized that I did have something other people wanted and would accept into their lives: a testimony and knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I realized that instead of thinking of fellowshipping people so they’ll join the Church, I needed to think more about loving them so much that I really wanted to share the gospel with them.

“The best way in the world to show our love for our neighbor,” said President Heber J. Grant, “is to go forth and proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1927, p. 176.)

The sons of Mosiah were filled with charity as they went about doing missionary work: “They were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.” (Mosiah 28:3.) If I, like the sons of Mosiah, truly love my nonmember friends and neighbors, I will want them to enjoy the same blessings I have. A testimony of Jesus Christ is not something I should hide.

To those who may be afraid of being pushy or hurting a friendship, President Spencer W. Kimball offered this counsel: “Sometimes we forget that it is better to risk a little ruffling in the relationship of a friend than it is to deprive them of eternal life. …” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, p. 554.)

On that first Sunday of the member-missionary class, our teacher asked us to commit to the Lord to give away one copy of the Book of Mormon during the next week and each following week. Even though I was still fearful at the time, I did commit. By the middle of the week it was clear to me whom I should share a copy with.

We had hired an older man to do some cleanup work in our yard. From his very first day, I felt he was an honest man of good character. On the morning of his last day of work for us, I went to Heavenly Father in prayer and received a confirmation that I should give this individual a copy of the Book of Mormon. I also prayed for guidance from the Holy Ghost on how to approach the man—and for confidence to go through with it. I prepared a Book of Mormon with my testimony and eagerly awaited our visit.

That evening, when he came in from working, the children were fussy and hungry, and the mood in our home was far from calm—not the ideal atmosphere in which to bear testimony. Faced with the very moment I had prayed for, I tried to get out of it. Pulling my husband aside, I told him that I felt the man should receive a copy of the Book of Mormon, but that my husband should be the one to give it to him because he held the priesthood! My husband smiled and reminded me that I was the one who had prayed about this person and had received the prompting. I reluctantly agreed.

I invited the man to sit down at the kitchen table, offered him a glass of water, and asked, “Has anyone ever told you why Mormons are called ‘Mormons’?” (This was an approach we had learned in class.)

When he said no, I asked, “Would you be offended if I offered to tell you?”

“No, go right ahead,” he answered.

After a friendly fifteen-minute chat about the Book of Mormon, I offered him a copy and asked if he would read it. I promised him that if he read it prayerfully he would know, as I did, that it is true. He said he would do it. We then parted, still friends. He wasn’t offended, and I didn’t feel that I had been pushy.

Sharing Your Testimony

2. “I’m afraid to share my testimony with nonmembers because …

—they might not be prepared to hear it.”

—they might reject it, and I would feel rejected.”

—I’m not sure what to say or how to put my testimony into words.”

These fears were put to rest when I gained a testimony that the Lord prepares people to hear the gospel. In Book of Mormon times, “the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming—

“That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, … but that they might receive the word with joy.” (Alma 16:16–17; see also D&C 31:7; 124:9.)

The same is true in our own day. President Spencer W. Kimball said that “the Lord has placed in a very natural way within our circles of friends many of those thousands he intends to bring into the Church.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 22 June 1979.)

Elder Franklin D. Richards has described how the Lord helps members and nonmembers get together: “What you must do is commit yourself to do the Lord’s assignment; take him at his word, then he opens up the way. I’ve seen it so many times. He opens up the way by putting people in our paths so we can become the connecting link between them and the missionaries.” (Ensign, Oct. 1977, p. 40.)

We are responsible to open our mouths and proclaim the gospel; then the individual has the option of accepting or rejecting it. If he doesn’t accept it, we continue to love him and to be his friend.

The Lord has promised to help us as we share the gospel: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88; see also 49:27.) If we put our trust in him and lift up our voices, he promises that “it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.” (See D&C 100:5–8.)

During the second week of our member-missionary class, I recognized a marvelous opportunity to share my testimony of the plan of salvation with a nonmember friend who had just had her first baby. I had offered to take dinner over to her—and felt this was an appropriate time to share my testimony and my love for her. By putting my trust in the Lord, I was able to express my testimony of God’s love. It was a sweet experience that led to tears of joy and an undeniable feeling that God does love us. I followed up later by sharing a copy of the Book of Mormon with her, which she welcomed and agreed to read.

Inviting Someone to Meet the Missionaries

3. “I’m afraid to invite nonmembers to meet the missionaries because …

—they might say no.”

—I don’t know how they’ll react to the missionaries.”

—everyone might be uncomfortable.”

Even though I was nervous about it, I decided to go ahead and invite our neighbors to spend an evening with us. We asked the missionaries to bring a video, The Best of Homefront, a collection of the best commercials produced by the Church. We felt that would be a fun way to introduce the Church to our neighbors, who have three small children. Our intention was to watch the video together, enjoy some refreshments, and have some casual conversation. We hoped that through this experience they would learn that the missionaries were normal young men with an enthusiasm for life and a genuine interest in their family’s happiness.

I practiced several approaches for a few days and prayed for courage. I prayed that our friendship wouldn’t be strained. Then, when the moment to invite them arrived, I forgot all about my well-practiced approaches and blurted, “Would you like to come over for a family home evening to watch a video and have some ice cream?” They said yes. I then explained that the missionaries would be coming also, and they said that would be fine.

After we had watched the video and enjoyed some ice cream, our conversation turned into a calm discussion about the gospel. An hour and a half later, our neighbors—still our friends—left with a copy of the Book of Mormon with our testimony written inside.

Other experiences followed during the final weeks of that member-missionary class. Each experience taught me the powerful lesson that my fears really don’t need to keep me from sharing the gospel with others. I have learned that if I am prayerful and prepared, the Lord will bless me with confidence. And now we are enjoying more often the sweet feelings of joy and gratitude that come from sharing the gospel.

[illustration] Illustrated by Richard D. Hull

Carol Wagner Tuttle serves as Primary president in the Pleasant Hill Second Ward, Walnut Creek California East Stake.