An experience I had as a boy in my own ward in the little country town where I spent my boyhood days has had a great influence upon my life.
Two young men returned from their missions in the Southern States and reported their missions in our sacrament meeting. In those days the missionaries traveled without purse or scrip and were thus required to sleep out on occasion when they were not successful in finding a family willing to give them a night’s lodging.
In those days the missionaries were subjected to some persecution. Under such conditions they were humbled and they experienced many evidences of how the Lord raised up friends to care for their needs.
The spirit of these two returned missionaries made such an impression on me that I went home and got down on my knees and asked the Lord to help me to live worthy to go on a mission when I became old enough. I continued to pray for this privilege until the train pulled out of the railroad station in Salt Lake City and I was headed for Holland. My last words to my loved ones were: “This is the happiest day of my life.”
Before I left for that mission, President Anthon H. Lund, then a counselor in the First Presidency, talked to us missionaries and told us that people would love us. Then he added: “Now don’t get lifted up in the pride of your hearts and think that it is because you are better than other people. It will be because of what you bring to them.” When he made this statement, I could hardly understand what he meant, but before I left that mission, I understood.
As I visited the Saints in Amsterdam to bid them farewell, realizing that I might never see many of them again in this life, I shed a thousand more tears than I did when I left my loved ones to go to Holland. For instance, I called at the home of a family where my companion and I had been the first missionaries to visit their home, and the mother, a small woman, said with tears rolling down her cheeks, even down the front of her apron, “Brother Richards, it was hard to see my daughter leave for Zion a few months ago [in those days the Church encouraged the Saints to immigrate to America; now it does not], but it is much harder to see you go.” Then I felt that I could understand what President Lund meant when he said: “The people will love you because of what you bring to them.”
I called on a brother who stood erect in the uniform of his country and who was old enough to be my father. He got down on his knees, took my hand in his, and hugged it and kissed it and bathed it with his tears. I felt again that I could understand what President Lund meant when he said: “The people will love you because of what you bring to them.”
That mission was such a wonderful experience that when I gave my talk in my ward upon my return, I told the Saints I had had such a wonderful experience in my mission that I felt at times I had almost walked and talked with the Lord, that I hoped he would send me on a mission just often enough so that I could retain the spirit I had enjoyed in that mission.
The Lord seemed to take me at my word, for it has been my privilege to fill four missions for the Church, to preside over two of them, and to tour many more of them. As a result of my missionary experience and my contact and association with missionaries, I have come to the conclusion that I would not want to raise a boy and not have him go on a mission; I think we owe so much to the world and we are called to share with it the wonderful truths of the gospel.
If we go back far enough, we will find that each of us is indebted to some missionary for our membership in the Church. I found that Brigham Young taught the gospel to my grandfather, and if I ever go where President Young is, I surely will thank him. Think of the loss it would have been to me and my family and loved ones if the gospel had not come to us.
I think every young man should aspire to fill a mission. When we hold meetings with the missionaries in the mission field, where many tears of joy are shed, missionaries often express themselves in words like these: “When we were home, we heard returned missionaries report their missions and say that this period had been the happiest time of their lives, and we didn’t believe a word of it—but now we understand.”
A young man from the East stopped in my office on his return from his mission in Argentina, where he spent an extra six months helping the missionaries learn the language. Calling him by name, for I knew him and his parents before he left for his mission, I said: “Do you feel that it was a waste of time for you to go on that mission—that you should have been completing your education and getting ready for marriage?”
He replied: “If the brethren would like to make me happy, just let them load me on a plane tomorrow morning and send me back to Argentina.” And he hadn’t yet seen his loved ones whom he had left at home.
I met a young missionary in the Northwest who had served in the military prior to his call. Knowing that this meant delaying his education and employment, I asked him about it. He said: “There is no corporation or organization in the world that could pay me enough to get me to leave my mission.”
A missionary in Holland, after performing a baptismal service for five adults, said to me: “When I was home, I had a good job and I could go to a show or a dance whenever I wanted to. But I wouldn’t exchange an experience such as this for all the shows or dances in the world.”
A short time ago I toured with the president of the Alaska-British Columbia Mission. His daughter in high school had been successful in converting one of her chums, so she told her father she wanted to spend her summer vacation in the mission field. He sent her up to Anchorage to labor with a lady missionary, and he and I were there to attend a baptismal service when eleven people were baptized. Nine of them were the converts of this girl and her companion. The daughter came up to me with tears running down her cheeks and said, “Oh, Brother Richards, I have never been so happy in all my life.”
While in Oregon I heard a missionary give his mission report. A convert to the Church, he said, “I wouldn’t take a check for a million dollars for the experience of my mission.” I sat behind him and I said to myself, “Would you take a million dollars for your mission over in the little land of Holland?” I began counting the families that I had been successful, with the Lord’s help, in bringing into his church, and then I realized that I wouldn’t sell them out of the Church for all the money in this world.
While I was serving years ago as president of the Southern States Mission, in one of our public meetings one of our missionaries, a young man who stood 6′ 3″ and had played on a championship basketball team, said that when his team won the championship game, their companions literally carried them around on their shoulders. Then he said: “That was the greatest experience of my life until I came into the mission field. I wouldn’t exchange a night like this, bearing testimony of the restoration of the gospel, for all the basketball games I have ever played.”
One of my grandsons filled a mission in Australia. I copied a paragraph from one of his letters: “Things are really tremendous down here—I can honestly say I have never been so thrilled and excited and happy in all my life! The Lord is really blessing me.” Such a testimony is more meaningful when you realize that before he went on his mission he was the junior high school boy of the month; was student body president of his junior high school; was selected as Mr. Football and as best athlete in his class at the high school; was captain of the football and basketball team; and was a member of a championship all-Church basketball team.
Only the Lord puts such feelings as these that I’ve described into the hearts of the missionaries.
When Jesus, following his crucifixion, sent his apostles into the world to preach the gospel to every creature, he said: “… and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20.) And every faithful missionary can testify that the Lord is fulfilling that promise.
Those of us who have experienced the fulfillment of the Savior’s promise realize the meaning of the words of Alma of old when he said: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1.)
As a young man, I was greatly impressed and inspired by a story President Heber J. Grant used to tell about a Scandinavian family who came to Utah. They hadn’t been taught much about the gospel. All they knew was that it was true. So the bishop went to this man and taught him the law of tithing, and the man paid his tithing. Then the bishop taught him the law of fast offering, and he paid his fast offering. Then sometime later the bishop asked for a donation to help build the meetinghouse. The man thought that that ought to come out of the tithing, but before the bishop was through, he made his contribution for the building of the meetinghouse. Then sometime later the bishop went to him to call his son to go on a mission. The man said, “That is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We can’t spare him. He is the only child at home.” Then the bishop said, “Brother, whom do you love in this world more than anyone else outside of your immediate family?” After thoughtful consideration the man said, “I guess I love that young Mormon missionary who hame up to the land of the midnight sun and taught me the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then the bishop replied, “Brother, how would you like someone to love your boy as you love that young Mormon elder?” His reply was: “Bishop, you’re right. Take him. I will pay for his mission.”
If one really wants to lay up treasures in heaven, I know of no better way than through missionary service. One’s converts will love him throughout this life and throughout the eternities that are to come.
True success in life cannot be measured in dollars or in the riches of this world. Jesus said: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36.)
“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59–60.)
Then the Lord sent the seventy out, two by two into every place, whither he himself would come, saying, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2.)
If the harvest was great at that time, how much greater today, and hence the need for many missionaries. I think every young man should aspire to fill a mission. It will give him a foundation upon which to build a life of useful service in our Father’s kingdom and in the world such as cannot be found in any other way.