My dear brethren of the priesthood, it is sincerely a great pleasure to stand before you this evening and share with you the feelings and gratitude that I have, to know that God lives and that he loves us, that Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother and Savior, and that there is a prophet on the earth that can authoritatively say, “Thus saith the Lord.” I treat with great reverence and humility the fact that the Lord has called me to serve as a Seventy and to witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ, and I will do my very best to move the work ahead, wherever I am assigned to labor.
I would like to speak to you about the importance of service in the kingdom of God and the importance of full-time mission service in the lives of our young men and older couples.
Without appearing to be self-serving, I would like to tell you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood a little about my call to a full-time mission. The year was 1962, and a call was received from President David O. McKay to serve in the Mexican Mission. Shortly after receiving the call, I learned that I had bone cancer in my right arm and that the probability of my living many weeks was extremely low. A blessing was received from a wonderful father, wherein he blessed me with my life and that the mission call would be fulfilled, and that I would have a family and be able to serve the Lord all my days.
The doctor congratulated me on being one who had great faith in the Savior but assured me that I didn’t realize the seriousness of what I had. As some of you have noticed, I only have one arm as a result of that problem; but ten months after having my arm amputated, I entered the Mexican Mission, full of excitement and ready to work. You see, young men, I had several years earlier committed to the Lord that I would serve a full-time mission and that I would not let anything stop me from fulfilling that call. Well, brethren, the doctor passed away twenty years ago, always amazed to see me still breathing, and he actually became quite interested in the Church.
Brethren, I want you to know that having one arm for nearly thirty years has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. It hasn’t been my greatest challenge, but it has been a great teacher to me, teaching me to be more patient and tolerant with others as I have had to learn to be more patient with myself. It has helped me to understand the necessity of our having challenges in life to help develop our character and stamina, helping us to become what the Lord ultimately wants us to become.
Our challenges may be physical, spiritual, economic, or emotional, but if we will treat them as opportunities and stepping-stones in our progress, rather than barriers and stumbling blocks, our lives and growth will be wonderful. I have learned that between challenges it is very restful but that any real growth that I have ever enjoyed has always come with a challenge.
There’s a little poem by an unknown author that we might think about when problems come our way. It is called “The Oyster.”
Young men, how are you going to meet the challenges that face you and that might jeopardize an opportunity to serve? It might be vocational opportunities, a car, a girlfriend, an assorted variety of sins, or a myriad of other reasons. For the older brethren, it might be a yacht, camper, fishing plans, or maybe not wanting to miss some expected weddings and births. Whatever your individual challenges might be, I would invite you this very night to get on your knees and commit to your Heavenly Father that you will not allow anything to stop you from fulfilling that wonderful opportunity to serve a full-time mission. If you haven’t been called, let your bishop know of your desire to serve.
When in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew the Lord said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40), he was talking about the importance of being of service to our fellowmen if we want to be worthy of his presence. What better way could there be to serve and to sacrifice than to accept a full-time mission call? At the same time, please realize that there are some handicaps and limitations that make other types of local service more practical than serving a full-time mission.
In the priesthood session of April conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Now, my brethren, ‘these are [your] days’ (Hel. 7:9) in the history of the Church.” (Ensign, May 1992, p. 39.) Yes, my young brethren, these are your days, to be a part of 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 missionaries serving in the army of the Lord, armed with peace, righteousness, and power.
While presiding over the Mexico City North Mission in the late seventies, we decided to open the work in an area called the Huasteca, where there was only one Latter-day Saint family in a vast area with several communities and small cities. After two years, there were 500 members of the Church in five branches and an organized district. This was done by a handful of nineteen- and twenty-year-old faithful missionaries and two wonderful couples, who gave of themselves to see that others of Heavenly Father’s children might know and understand.
After the missionaries had been in the Huasteca for about three weeks, we received a phone call from one of them, and we could tell that he was slightly discouraged, not having yet received any mail, being in a hot area with high humidity, and learning about a culture that was new to all of us. After we had talked for a minute or two, I reminded him that we had talked about the fact that it wouldn’t be easy. He said, “Oh, that’s right, President; that’s right. It wouldn’t be easy. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.” Well, he went ahead with great enthusiasm and concluded his very successful work there and was released to return home. A couple of months later, while he was at BYU, he and some of his former companions called Sister Dickson and me at the mission home in Mexico City at 2:30 in the morning, waking us from a very sound sleep. After a short conversation, I mentioned the fact that it was wonderful to talk with them but that it seemed a little late at night to be calling. He said, “I know, President, but you knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Brethren, life is not intended to be easy, but I promise those that labor faithfully in the service of their fellowmen, and with determination handle every challenge properly and under the influence of the Spirit, that they will be blessed with feelings of happiness which will permeate their whole souls, and these, my brethren, are blessings that mold and build us and that can never be taken away.
I leave you with my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ and my testimony of the blessings which accompany unselfish service and hard work that is done in his holy name, and I say it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.