The date we’d chosen was 31 December 1986, and we were excited. It was the first time our family had participated in setting a date by which we would have someone prepared to hear the missionary discussions, and we were looking forward to the experience.
We prayed for the Lord’s guidance in preparing someone to hear the discussions. We actively took steps to befriend others, share the gospel with them, and invite them to learn more. But despite our sincere efforts, when our date arrived we had no one.
We felt discouraged. We had tried our best, but nothing had happened. I concluded that setting a date wouldn’t work for us.
A year or so later, counsel from our prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve persuaded us that we had better try again. In the April 1988 General Conference, President Benson said: “Do you realize that, as a member-missionary, you have a sacred responsibility to share the gospel with friends and family? The Lord needs every member of the Church having the faith and the courage to set a date to have someone prepared to be taught by the missionaries. Would each member of the Church prayerfully consider this sacred challenge?” (Ensign, May 1988, p. 84.)
Elder Ballard visited our stake in early 1988 and challenged us to set another date. He assured us that there was no guarantee that the first date set would yield fruit, but encouraged us to try again. With our faith renewed by the words of President Benson and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, we set another date—10 October 1988.
Because we had honestly tried when we set our first date, we did not know whom we could work with or what more we could do to make the second date more successful. We concluded our only option was to rely more heavily on the Lord. If we had done everything we could the first time, and failed, only he could make the difference the second time.
So we began again. The difference this time was that our fasting and prayers were more fervent, more humble. Our children, four-year-old Jamie and six-year-old Jason, were especially faithful in their prayers, always asking Heavenly Father to help us find someone to share the gospel with before October 10. If my wife, Evelyn, or I forgot to mention our date in family prayer, the kids reminded us. It was truly a family effort.
I met Eric while I was home teaching a less-active sister in our ward. He was at her home during our visit but didn’t say much. After my companion and I had left and were getting into the car, Eric ran outside. “I have heard a lot of negative things about your church, but I’m not sure I believe them. I’d like to find out for myself. Can you help me learn more about your church?”
We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he began to read. Eric was a student of the Bible and compared the teachings of the Book of Mormon with the teachings of the Bible. He commented that he felt the same spirit when he was reading the Book of Mormon as he did when reading the Bible. He eagerly accepted our invitation to meet with the missionaries and learn more.
Because of his previous study of the Bible, Eric already had a testimony of many gospel principles. He bore his testimony to me concerning the law of tithing before hearing the missionary discussion concerning it. When I asked him how he knew about tithing, he responded, “Haven’t you read Malachi 3 [Mal. 3]?”
Two weeks before his baptism, Eric told me he could not be baptized. When I asked why, he explained that we did not believe in the law of the fast, as taught in Isaiah, chapter 58. [Isa. 58] After I explained our belief in fasting, I told him, “You’ll be doing more fasting in the restored church of Jesus Christ than you can imagine.” He was baptized soon after that.
Susan was a cashier at the Mexican restaurant where my sister, Robyn, and I ate lunch every Tuesday. During the year prior to my family’s setting our second date, Robyn and I had talked with Susan each week as we paid our bill. Robyn had given her a Christmas gift, and from that point on, Susan treated us like family when we came to the restaurant.
Soon after we had set our October 10 date, we blessed our baby in church and invited Susan. I had no idea whether or not she was religious, but it seemed appropriate to invite her. I explained that our meetings were three hours long and that she didn’t need to stay the entire time if she didn’t want to. I wasn’t sure if she would even show up; she lived an hour away, and church started at 8:00 A.M.
She showed up on time, carrying a Bible with a well-worn, hand-sewn cloth carrying case. She stayed for the entire three hours and came over to our house for lunch afterwards. When I asked her what she thought of church, she said, “I have been praying for three months to know what church is true.”
The rest is history. Susan, like Eric, agreed to take the missionary discussions. Both of them were baptized before 10 October 1988. We’d set a date, worked and prayed, and the Lord had blessed us with success.
Encouraged by these missionary experiences, we set another date for the next summer. As before, we had no idea who we would be friendshipping. As before, the Lord blessed us with friends who were eager for truth and willing to learn.
We thought we had failed after we did not find anyone by the first date we set. I have since realized, however, that it was not failure at all. The Lord used that first “set-a-date” experience to give us the additional faith, desire, humility, and dependence on him that we needed to be instruments in his hands. Other families in our stake who have had successful missionary experiences after setting a date usually have them after they have set the second, third, or fourth date. As Elder Ballard counseled, if nothing happens by the date you have chosen, set another one.
Evelyn, our four children, and I have set several dates after the above experiences that have not resulted in someone taking the missionary discussions, but we just keep setting new dates. We are now in a habit of regularly setting a date. We have learned that the important thing is not so much the particular date, but that we have a specific goal for which we are working and praying.
Setting a date by which to prepare someone to hear the missionary discussions is an excellent means for implementing principles of success. Setting a date helps missionary experiences happen because it provides a time frame and specific steps for sharing the gospel. Because it provides a deadline, it helps us do something—and it brings us to our knees in prayer as we realize, once again, that we need the Lord’s help in this important effort.