After the resurrection of the Savior, he gathered his Apostles on a mountain in Galilee and instructed them: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). This is one of the most significant commandments he has given—a divine, apostolic commission that was renewed in this dispensation (see D&C 84:62–64) and, in a general sense, also applies to all members of his church today (see D&C 68:5–8; D&C 88:81).
Indeed, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is among the three fundamental emphases of the Church in this dispensation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in Fayette, New York, on 6 April 1830, and by midsummer of that year, missionary work was already well under way in other parts of that state. Yet even before formation of the Church, people had informally shared the restored gospel with family, friends, and neighbors. In time, missionary activity spread to neighboring counties, states, and nations.
Many great brethren in the early days of the Church traveled on foot over land and in boats along rivers and across oceans to preach the gospel. Some left their families behind for a season of time, traveling to faraway countries. These early missionaries made many sacrifices in fulfilling their assignments, and they set a wonderful example of service. Many have followed their footsteps in subsequent generations.
Currently, some forty-seven thousand full-time missionaries of different nationalities and races labor faithfully across the world in more than 150 countries and territories. These modern missionaries include not just young people but also retired individuals and couples with rich experience in their respective fields of expertise. Let us look at what some of them are doing and consider ways that we who are not currently serving as full-time missionaries can support that work.
It was a hot and humid summer afternoon in 1993. The place was Karachi, in Pakistan, where Sister Tai and I were touring the Pakistan part of the Singapore Mission. Crowded into a small vehicle, we went out with a missionary couple, Elder Stephen and Sister Shirley Sherwood, to visit the humble apartment of a widowed sister. It was located above a stable of cows and donkeys. She was a busy working mother with three lovely little children. The family did not seem to have much in terms of earthly possessions, but they had the gospel in their home. All appeared happy in receiving us. We gave a blessing to one of the children who suffered from polio.
Then we went on to what was known as the “Christian Colony” to visit a family with older children. They lived in an uncompleted house with no water supply or bathroom facility; its roof was only partially finished. The neighborhood was primitive and poor. Elder and Sister Sherwood, we learned, visited the family regularly, usually bringing bottles of drinking water for them. Surely the Sherwoods have demonstrated, by their actions, charity and Christlike concern for these needy families.
A farm couple from Stark City, Missouri, Elder and Sister Sherwood were serving their third full-time mission. They had left behind ten children and forty grandchildren in their native land. At the time of our visit, massive flooding in the Midwest had submerged their farm. Their children sent words of comfort along with the reports of damage. The Sherwoods received unfailing support from their wonderful family.
Despite the challenges of laboring in a new environment and dealing with concerns about a catastrophic disaster back home, the Sherwoods remained cheerful. Asked how he felt about being in Karachi, Elder Sherwood replied, “It’s like heaven here!” and added: “We are here in response to the Savior’s invitation to work in his vineyard.” What a wonderful example of selfless service in the Lord’s kingdom!
The Church has many great missionaries like the Sherwoods today. They faithfully serve the Lord throughout the world. Think how the work might be hastened if we had more missionaries like them.
Church membership now stands at nearly ten million throughout the world. From its small beginning, the Church has become a worldwide church today. To his Apostles in the meridian of time, the Lord promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). Clearly he remains with members of his restored church today.
The need for missionary couples has increased rapidly with the growth of the Church. As the frontiers of the Lord’s kingdom continue to expand, more developing countries are opening to us. We have entered into a new era of missionary work, and this new era requires an increase in our humanitarian missionary efforts.
During the Lord’s earthly ministry, he clothed the naked, fed the hungry, healed the sick, and raised the dead. He demonstrated gospel principles by action. Today, missionaries often have opportunities to provide humanitarian service. Some are called to various countries with specific assignments to help meet human needs there. These missionaries manifest Christlike love in very practical ways. Opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ frequently are the natural result of their service.
In the Church’s Asia Area, most of the countries are in the developing stage. Latter-day Saint missionaries with rich experience in many professional and practical fields serve the people there, using their expertise to help individuals, families, communities, and governments in a variety of ways. The missionaries live simple and exemplary lives and, with love in their hearts, labor diligently. People who watch what they do and feel of their spirit admire and respect them. The missionaries’ service touches the hearts of many who in turn gain a desire to learn about the gospel.
In Mongolia, for example, both missionary couples with specific humanitarian assignments and young elders work in various local projects. They have established a good reputation for the Church in Ulaanbaatar, the city where they serve. Some 350 people have accepted the gospel since our first missionaries, Elder and Sister Kenneth H. and Donna Beesley, entered the nation in September 1992. Many of these pioneer members, faithful and strong in the gospel, are talented professionals. Through the continued efforts of our missionaries and members, more hearts will undoubtedly be softened and become receptive to the gospel.
Through one of his latter-day prophets, President David O. McKay, the Lord issued this call: “Every member a missionary” (Improvement Era, June 1959, p. 479). All of us have the opportunity to share the gospel with others. The Lord said, “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).
During the earthly ministry of Christ, member missionary activity evidently was common among his followers. The gathering of more than five thousand people to listen to the Savior, for example, most likely involved many who went out of their way to invite friends (see Mark 6:33–44). A similar occasion was the gathering of a great multitude on the American continent to be taught by the Savior and his twelve chosen disciples. Following the resurrected Christ’s first appearance among the Nephites and his promise that he would return again the next day, those who had been present “noised abroad concerning Jesus” (3 Ne. 19:3)—an activity that began immediately after the Lord’s ascension and lasted “even all the night” in order to invite everyone to attend the greatest spiritual feast in their history.
We, like those of old, have the sacred obligation to share the gospel with our neighbors and friends, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I [the Lord] have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). The Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery pertains to each of us as well: “Thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing” (D&C 28:16).
Here are some simple things we can do to help missionary work go forward.
Remember missionaries in our daily family prayers. When we specifically mention names of missionaries in our own wards, we join them in spirit, we develop more love for them, and we become more supportive of their activities. If we do this in our family prayers, we teach our children to pray for the missionaries too. In this way they catch the missionary spirit in their tender years.
Remember investigators in our fasting and prayers. Alma taught the people in Zarahemla to “gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God” (Alma 6:6). Jesus prayed not just for those he had chosen but “also for all those who shall believe on their words” (3 Ne. 19:23). What strength we gain from Jesus’ prayer in our behalf!
Attend ward missionary activities such as firesides, baptismal services, and discussions with investigators (arranging this in advance through the missionaries, of course) to offer the kind of support that may be needed.
Invite friends to Church meetings and refer them to missionaries. I was a product of this kind of missionary work. A friend invited me to church when I was seventeen. I went—and met the missionaries.
Live the gospel faithfully in our daily lives. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). People are watching all we do.
Fellowship investigators and new members and help them feel at home among us.
Share the Book of Mormon and other appropriate Church publications with our friends.
Bear our testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel in both word and deed to our friends. Remember how the followers of Christ “noised [that is, enthusiastically and appropriately testified] abroad concerning Jesus” (3 Ne. 19:3) all night and invited their friends to come to the gathering the next day.
Invitations and opportunities to serve in the Lord’s vineyard may not come at the most convenient times of our lives. Sacrifice is often necessary. Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the duty collector Matthew left their work “straightway” when Jesus invited them to “follow me” (Matt. 4:18–22; Matt. 9:9). The Savior intercepted Saul during his well-planned journey to Damascus, and later Saul gave up all his worldly ambitions, serving the Lord as a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). Nephi, son of Helaman, left his judgment seat and together with his brother, Lehi, devoted the remainder of his life to preaching the word of God (see Hel. 5:4).
Today our missionary couples leave their comfortable lifestyle, children, and grandchildren to serve the Lord wherever they are called. Young missionaries interrupt their studies or postpone the beginning of their careers. Other members offer their time, often at inconvenience, to serve and fellowship investigators and newcomers. These are some of the modern-day sacrifices we need to make to further the work of the Lord.
Those who labor faithfully to bring souls unto Christ receive immeasurable blessings, and they who accept the gospel with broken hearts and contrite spirits are likewise blessed. The Lord promised: “If your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:16).
Those who diligently seek to share the gospel with others will experience unspeakable joy. Helaman counseled his sons Nephi and Lehi, “[My] desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven … that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life” (Hel. 5:8).
Missionary work is vital to the plan of salvation. That plan involves all of us in the gigantic task of helping God’s children come unto Christ so they can return to his presence. May we all accept Christ’s invitation: “Go ye … and teach all nations.” We need not do some great thing, but only share what we have with others in our daily activities and spheres of influence. Among our rewards will be peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.