The first thing a visitor sees in Burt Jessop’s home is a framed print of the resurrected Christ ministering to the surviving Nephites. Beneath it, on a table, lie several copies of the Book of Mormon with Burt’s testimony and picture inside.
Typical comments from visitors include, “That looks like Christ. But where in the world is he?” That’s Burt’s clue to pick up a Book of Mormon, open to 3 Nephi, and answer, “This is a picture of Christ when he came to America, and here is where you can read about it. Would you like a book?”
Active in a Langley, Virginia, singles ward, Burt has enlisted the full-time missionaries in reaching out to his neighbors. He purchased a quantity of copies of the Book of Mormon, put his picture and testimony in them, and asked the missionaries to use them in tracting in his immediate neighborhood.
“It’s easy to fellowship new members when you’re already their neighbor,” Burt explains. “And while they’re taking the lessons, I’m close by to answer questions.” So far, missionaries have taught several families in his neighborhood.
Any member, of course, might use the Book of Mormon as Burt Jessop has in missionary work. Good ideas for sharing the gospel can be adapted for use by anyone. But because of the factors that influence their lives, single members may find unique opportunities for missionary service.
LDS singles ordinarily have a different circle of acquaintances outside the Church than married members do. Singles are more likely to socialize with non-Latter-day Saints. They may travel more than married members, and LDS singles who are not parents generally have more income and time available for leisure activities. They also relocate more often than marrieds do.
All of these differences in life-style give them unique opportunities to help share the gospel.
For example, Justine Davis, of Washington, D.C., points out that often singles don’t need to spend as much time as couples do in family responsibilities, and that singles can therefore use some of their leisure time to serve others. “Be active in community service,” she advises. “If you serve on a community committee, invite your co-workers to attend Church activities with you. Remember: it’s not your church, it’s the Lord’s; when we have activities, we ought to share them with everyone.”
When Justine was assistant producer for a production of the musical Hello Dolly! in her stake, she invited her neighbors to attend. Thirty-six of them did. “Develop the relationship first,” she says. “Accept invitations from them as well. Then it’s a lot easier to invite them to something on your grounds.”
One convert was brought into the Church because his college roommate invited him to attend a sacrament meeting and then accepted an invitation to attend a Protestant church meeting. Now a member of several years, this convert counsels, “Often when you’re convinced you’re right, you can be rude. Be polite. I would never have gotten interested in the Church if my roommate hadn’t treated my beliefs with respect.”
Bruce Northcott, who served as second counselor in the Canada Winnipeg Mission presidency while he was single and now serves as a stake missionary, frequently shares gospel views with nonmembers.
“Everywhere you go, you can teach,” Bruce says. “Identify the good values a person has, and concur with them. Share your own values. Anything that we can do to educate the conscience of people will eventually help lead them to the truth.”
Patience and consistency are important qualities for those who would witness of Christ. Bruce notes, “It isn’t always convenient, and sometimes taking a stand doesn’t mean that someone will approach you about the Church. But those seeds will eventually grow. Someone else may reap them somewhere else, but our efforts to share the gospel may be the beginning of conversion.”
Through a community square-dancing class, Steve Haymore, president of the Rockingham Branch in Fayetteville, North Carolina, developed a friendship with a fellow dancer that eventually brought his friend into the Church.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out and let others know you’re really happy with the gospel,” Steve says. “Ask, ‘Would you be interested in receiving literature?’ If they are, choose a pamphlet to share with them. Then ask if they would be interested in receiving missionaries.”
The Rockingham Branch has a thriving program for fellowshipping and teaching investigators.
“When someone is taking the missionary lessons, we invite other members to attend,” says Steve. “We plan the evening so that half the time is spent on the discussion and half the time is spent on a recreational activity, such as volleyball, badminton, croquet, or a cookout. That way, the investigator feels the Spirit during the discussion and feels the members’ love during the social occasions. Investigators also discover they can have a good time without alcoholic beverages. And when they come to a Church meeting, they already have friends there.”
Margaret Bourdette, of National City, California, came into the Church because an LDS co-worker followed the counsel of Elder M. Russell Ballard, then of the First Quorum of the Seventy, in a conference address.
Elder Ballard counseled, “May I suggest a simple way in which each one of us can exercise our faith and start our personal missionary service. Write down a date in the near future on which you will have someone ready to be taught the gospel. … Fast and pray, seeking guidance and direction from our Heavenly Father.
“I know from my own experience that the Lord … will sharpen your vision of this work by bringing names of nonmembers to your mind that you have never before regarded as potential members of the Church. As you continue, you will be blessed to know what you should say and how you should approach each person.” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, pp. 16–17.)
“My friend often invited me to come to firesides or special programs,” Margaret says. “On December 5, 1984, I attended a Relief Society Christmas program with her, and at the end of the evening I asked where I could buy a copy of the Book of Mormon. Several months later, after I’d had the lessons, I called to tell her I was going to be baptized, and she told me that December 5 was the date about which she had fasted and prayed.”
Dennis Flake’s institute students at the University of Southern Mississippi copied the idea behind the “Elevate Your Thoughts” messages in Church Office Building elevators in Salt Lake City. The students received college approval and had spiritual thoughts printed on half-sheet cardstock, with the name of the Church at the bottom, and placed the cards in elevators and stairwells on campus. “It didn’t take long before we found a very positive response to the name of the Church on campus,” says Brother Flake, now serving as institute director at Fresno State in California.
It is not just our nonmember neighbors and friends who are waiting to hear our gospel message. The less active, single and married, often respond to the light and kindness single Latter-day Saint friends can bring into their lives. As a result of fellowshipping by a singles family home evening group in San Diego, for example, more than twenty less-active members returned to full activity. “The singles’ representative faithfully invited me to come to that home evening group, and I faithfully turned her down,” says Jo Ann Autenrieb. “But she never gave up on me, and one day I said I would come. It was the beginning of a new life for me.”
Out of that home evening group have come three Relief Society presidents, one bishop, two elders quorum presidents, and several high councilors. Jo Ann currently serves as a stake Relief Society president in the San Diego California North Stake.
For those who say they have never had a missionary experience, Bruce Northcott advises, “Pray for a missionary opportunity, and you’ll get one the next day. Then you have to have the courage to open your mouth. Sometimes you have to be creative. But when the prompting comes, find a way to respond to it.”
What opportunities are there for someone who isn’t comfortable with the direct approach? Bruce describes the service performed by a shy friend.
“She noticed and friendshipped new people who visited her branch. She didn’t feel comfortable inviting them in the first place, but once they were there, she made them feel welcome.”
Others may copy testimonies into copies of the Book of Mormon or friendship new members rather than teach nonmembers.
“As you get comfortable doing what you can, your ability to participate will increase,” Bruce explains. “You will be able to do more, and the Lord will bless you for doing what you can.”
Missionary opportunities sometimes arise out of tragedy.
When David Cornelson was a member of the Los Angeles First Ward, he suffered a broken lower back in a head-on collision in Mexico. (He now lives in Huntington Beach, California.) “I had been a member of that ward for less than a year,” David commented, “but during my long rehabilitation I had consistent support. Members stopped by to visit, made calls for me, answered my mail, and brought me food. Some of the members even brought me a guitar so I could be learning something new while I was in the hospital.”
This warmth—one of the things that attracted David to the Church as an investigator in Philadelphia—affected his parents, who came to visit after the accident.
His father is a retired minister, and his mother is their congregation’s organist and choirmaster. When David became a Latter-day Saint, “their attitude was ‘We’re glad you’ve chosen a church, but does it have to be that church?’” he recalls. “Now they’ve met my bishop and my friends. I don’t know what they expected, but they couldn’t stop being impressed with the quality of the people and the Christlike love emanating from the members of the Church.”
Christlike service is also part of the powerful influences single men and women have in wards and branches that serve minority groups. A number of single members serve in Asian branches in the Fresno, California, area—teaching, fellowshipping, and providing help wherever it is needed. “They have love, talent, and a car (for transportation). We really appreciate what they have to offer,” says Dennis Flake, now first counselor in the Fresno California North Stake presidency.
Well-planned activities offer a myriad of opportunities for introducing nonmembers to the Church. Rather than thinking, “Would I like to go?” perhaps members would do well to ask themselves, “Who do I know who would enjoy this activity?” One single member comments, “It isn’t enough just to be a good example. We need to end more conversations with the question, ‘Will you come to church with me?’ Many will respond.”
While loving nonmembers is important, being prepared to explain LDS doctrines is also useful. This is impossible without studying the gospel and seeking the help of the Spirit. With fewer family demands on their time, single members often have more time to study the gospel. And with increased knowledge of the scriptures comes a greater testimony of the gospel and a sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Ghost that will enable members—single or married—to succeed in their missionary efforts.
Latter-day Saints have long been counseled that every member is to be a missionary. Knowing that responsibility, we need to set a priority for scripture study so that we can speak with understanding.
Les Tippetts, a university programs coordinator and elders quorum counselor in Salt Lake City, observes, “We must not hide our light. Others will notice that we have something to offer, and when they come to us, we need to respond with courage and knowledge.” He pauses and adds, “If we have the knowledge, it’s a lot easier to have the courage.”
Here are several ideas single members are using that can help any member in sharing the gospel. Come up with other ideas that fit your particular circumstances.
Give a Church magazine subscription as a gift to a non-LDS friend.
Keep an extra copy of the Book of Mormon in your car to share. One single woman gave a copy to the man who fixed her car.
Help support a full-time missionary financially.
Write letters to full-time missionaries.
Share ideas from Relief Society and priesthood lessons with your nonmember friends.
Invite nonmembers to dinner, where they can experience the atmosphere of an LDS home.
Put up pictures of ancestors or arrange a family tree on a wall.
Invite nonmembers to hear the discussions.