In 1970, a few days after Barbara, our children, and I had arrived in Mexico City where I was to serve as mission president, Presidents Joseph Fielding Smith, Nathan Eldon Tanner, and Spencer W. Kimball and their wives visited us at our first missionary conference. Afterwards, as I drove President and Sister Kimball to their downtown hotel, we stopped at a service station for gasoline. While the car was being serviced, a barefoot Indian lady with her baby in her “reboso,” or blue shawl, came up to our car offering for sale some small packs of chewing gum. I purchased some, she expressed appreciation, then went to the car behind us. At that point, President Kimball taught me a powerful lesson in his quiet, kind way. “President,” he said, “might it not be well to let that sister know who we are?”
Well, with that encouragement I did think it “might be well” to let her know that we were representatives of Jesus Christ. So I rolled down my window and invited the woman back. I bought some more gum from her and then introduced her to President and Sister Kimball, explaining that he was one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I asked her if she had ever heard of the “Mormon” church; she said she had. She lived in a suburb of Mexico City and had seen the missionaries—the “young men dressed in white shirts.” I invited her to be sure to listen at the next opportunity to the message they had to share with her. She said she would.
Although I am not sure she has ever taken the opportunity to learn more about the gospel, I learned that we who are Latter-day Saints should let other people know who we are—and especially whom we represent.
The Lord has said:
“Yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the field is white already to harvest; wherefore, thrust in your sickles, and reap with all your might, mind, and strength.
“Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.
“Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.
“Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (D&C 33:7–10, italics added.)
It is interesting that the Lord tells us three times in three succeeding verses to open our mouths.
Is it not always easy for us to “publish the gospel among every people that (we shall) be permitted to see” (D&C 19:29) because many of us are shy, and starting a conversation with a stranger can be challenging. Yet it is one of the most important things we can do if the message is to be taken to everyone. Miracles could happen if we would just open our mouths.
Think what could happen in the next twenty years if each year we were to help just one person find the truth, and then encourage that person to do the same! The growth rate in the Church would be very rapid.
I recently learned what growth rates that double every year can do. I was visiting a returned missionary colleague, now a mathematics professor at BYU, who has made some interesting calculations of what will happen to Church population if present Church growth rates remain constant during the next twenty years. He showed me that if the present growth rate of the Church in one particular country were to continue for the next twenty years, there will be more than three million members of the Church there by the year 2000.
Later, I made some further calculations. If just one hundred members of the Church were effective in finding one other person each year with whom they could share the gospel, and who in turn would share it in the same way with one other person in each succeeding year, there would be more than one hundred million new members of the Church in twenty years. That is what happens when growth rates are accelerated. Even if just one person were to bring one other person into the Church each year, and each of them were to bring someone else into the Church, there would be 1,048,576 new members of the Church in twenty years.
It is easier for me now to understand why President Kimball would think that we as members of the Church ought not to be thinking in terms of mere hundreds of thousands of converts in the years ahead, but in terms of the millions who could learn the gospel and reap its benefits in their lives. We could help so much if we would just let people know who we are. And often we don’t need to do much more than open our mouths.
In the summer of 1969, my wife, Barbara, and I attended a “sound and light” show in Rome, Italy. We arrived early, and knowing that we would be seated for about two hours, we were standing in front of our chairs. Behind us were four ladies. Two of them were Catholic nuns. We had a delightful conversation with them; they were choice ladies. (In fact, I have never met a Catholic nun who was not a fine person. I wish they were all in the Relief Society somewhere.)
We then talked with the other two women who were of college age. We learned that they were Americans traveling in Europe during summer vacation. We asked them what they were going to be doing when they returned to their homes. One of them, a girl named Cathy, said she would like to go on to graduate school and that she was considering coming to the University of Utah. “If you do come,” I said, “be sure to give us a call and we will have you over to dinner at our home. You could meet the family and then we will show you around the university and Salt Lake City.”
Frankly, I had forgotten about the conversation when in August I was called to the telephone and heard Cathy speaking on the other end of the line. I invited her to our home, she met the family and had dinner with us, and we did what we had agreed to do. We discovered that she had decided she would pursue her graduate studies at the University of Utah.
The next spring we were called to go on a mission to Mexico and lost contact with her, except that each Christmas we would receive a Christmas card. About three years later she wrote on the back of her card, “I thought you would be interested in knowing that I am now teaching dance at Brigham Young University. Last August I was baptized into the Church and that has made all the difference!” Since then she has married in the temple, is rearing and teaching her own family, and has been very active in the Church.
When we went to Mexico to preside over the Mexico City Mission, it was almost twenty years since I had served there as a missionary. I was excited to get back to those people whom I had learned to love so much. I especially wanted to go to Cuernavaca, Morelos, a beautiful city where I had labored as a missionary. I wanted to know if those marvelous people who formed that little branch years ago were still alive and active in the Church. I wanted them to meet my family, and I wanted my family to meet them.
I was very pleased to learn shortly after we arrived that a district conference was scheduled in Cuernavaca. We made it a point to arrive early so that we would have an opportunity to talk informally with the people. It was a thrilling experience to share that warm Mexican greeting with those great people I had know years before. The abrazo includes a hug and a pat on the back, and we went from one to another.
Among those I greeted was a gray-haired lady who would likely have been in her seventies. As she stepped from our abrazo, she said, “Do you remember me?”
I was embarrassed that I didn’t and apologized, “I’m sorry Ma’am, but I don’t remember you.”
She responded, “You should; you converted me.”
Then I was really embarrassed. We didn’t have that many converts back in those days, and I thought I remembered every one of them very well.
She said, “Don’t you remember the day when we rode on that turismo (a little limousine-type bus) from Mexico City to Cuernavaca?”
Then I remembered! I had been assigned to take a message from the mission office in Mexico City to the elders who were working in Cuernavaca, and I had sat by that lady on the bus. She asked me what I was doing in Mexico, we had a little conversation about the Church, I gave her an Articles of Faith card, and she gave me her name, address, and permission to give them to the missionaries in Cuernavaca. Three months later, she and some of her adult children were baptized into the Church. She became the president of the Relief Society in the branch and through all these years had been one of the faithful members of the Church in Cuernavaca.
She was invited to bear her testimony in one of the district meetings, and she said, “If I had been asked to be baptized the first day that I heard the gospel, I would have been baptized, because I knew that day that it was true.”
The reality is that we personally do not convert anyone. Conversion comes by the Spirit. We never know when the Spirit will bear witness to those we speak to; our responsibility is simply to create a setting in which the Spirit can witness to the truthfulness of the gospel.
Shortly after returning from the Mexico City Mission, I received an invitation to accompany Elder Boyd K. Packer to Mexico to make a survey of the Church Educational System there. We arrived on Thursday and were involved in almost continuous meetings through Friday and Saturday; then Elder Packer presided over a stake conference. By Sunday evening, we were all very tired. Elder Packer returned home, and I remained to conduct a meeting on Monday with the supervisors of the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.
Monday morning I checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the mission office. I was in the back seat going through some papers when I happened to look at the taxi driver. My first thought was, “I’m busy. I’m tired. And besides, he probably is not interested in the gospel anyway.” But my rationalizing did not satisfy me, especially when I thought of my previous experience with President Kimball and remembered the lady on the bus between Mexico City and Cuernavaca. Finally, I leaned forward and asked him, “Señor, siempre ha vivido aqui en Mexico?” (“Sir, have you always lived here in Mexico City?”) “No,” he replied, “I am from Oaxaca.”
“Do you like living here in Mexico City better than in Oaxaca?”
“No, I liked living in Oaxaca better than here, but you see I’m the father of eight children. My oldest son is studying here at the Polytechnical Institute to become an engineer. He will graduate this year. My second son is also studying to become an engineer, and he will graduate next year. Our oldest daughter is studying to become a profesionista” (accountant).
I could see that he was very proud of his children. Then he turned to me and asked, “What are you doing here in Mexico City?”
“I’m here on a special assignment from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Have you ever heard of that church?”
He wrinkled his forehead and said, “Is that some kind of Catholic Church?”
“No,” I replied, “it is really quite different. In our faith we believe that when Jesus was on earth he organized his church just as he wanted it to be, but over the years a falling away, or apostasy, occurred. Then the time came in our era when the Lord decided it was right to reveal himself to living prophets again, and to restore his church to the earth.”
That simple explanation took only about forty seconds. I leaned back in the seat, feeling content that at least I had “opened my mouth.”
The next thing I knew he slowed down, looked over his shoulder, and said, “Would you be willing to come to my home and teach my family more about that?”
“I would be delighted,” I replied, “but my plane leaves at 2:00 P.M. this afternoon. If you have three minutes when we get where we are going, I will introduce you to a friend, and I am sure that we can make arrangements for someone to come to your home and tell you and your family more about this.”
“Well,” he said, “I’m buying my taxi; I can do with my time what I want to, so I’ll come with you.”
By the time we arrived at the mission office I had had an opportunity to tell him about our missionary program and how it operates. We parked the car and went into the mission office, and I introduced Herman Velasquez to President Eran Call, who graciously received him.
Just as they were making the arrangements, President Call looked out the office window and said with surprise, “Well, those two elders coming up the sidewalk right now are the two that work in your part of the city!” I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Herman Velasquez meet the elders who would be coming to his home the following Sunday to teach his family more about the gospel.
Some weeks later I received a letter from President Call, who wrote: “I thought you would be interested in knowing what has happened to that taxi driver you brought to the mission home the other day. The missionaries are meeting with him and his family, with his brother and his family, and his brother-in-law and his family, and last Sunday eleven people attended church services from among those families. The exciting thing is that the two most interested are those sons that are studying to be engineers.”
Six months later, I returned to Mexico City to attend a Young Adult conference. I heard that even though the taxi driver had not yet joined the Church, the oldest son who was studying engineering had been baptized and ordained a priest; his brother, the younger son who was studying engineering, had been baptized and ordained a teacher. Someday I would like to know what has happened since; surely much more has occurred.
I’m convinced that if we truly followed the counsel of the prophets, every one of us would be a missionary at every opportunity. We would do all we could to find people for the missionaries to teach. And we would encourage everyone who has been so taught and blessed to find others whom they could bring to the gospel. If we did this, there would not be merely hundreds of thousands of new members of the Church each year, but millions—and eventually billions.
The gospel is the most priceless message that we could share with anyone else. “Might it not be well to let that sister (or brother) know who we are?”