Today’s prophets have made it abundantly clear that the responsibility to share the gospel belongs to every member of the Church. However, I have found that modern-day prophets seldom, if ever, say anything that the Lord has not already said.
The injunction “Every member a missionary” merely restates the Lord’s declaration recorded in section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 81:
“Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.” [D&C 88:81]
As is the case with all the Lord’s commandments, we never seem to fully understand the far-reaching consequences of our acts as we carry out the Lord’s injunctions to us. They always result in great blessings unto us, because the whole purpose of the Lord is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) Naturally, all of his commandments are for our own blessing.
In 1952 I returned to San Diego, California, from a Korean campaign during which I had been baptized at the mission home in Tokyo, Japan. As a new convert I was sure that everyone, everywhere, was looking for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I had found. I had it, and I was going to give it to them whether they wanted it or not.
I became a member of a car pool that operated between my home in Chula Vista, California, and North Island, where I worked. There were four other navy men in that car pool—all nonmembers. Three of them were lieutenants (which was also my rank), and one was an enlisted man, a first class ordinance man, whose name was George Whitehead. I was elated with the prospects of converting these four car pool mates. I was sure it would be a cinch. It was a 45-minute trip in each direction, and they couldn’t get out of the car—they had to listen. I decided I would convert these four, and then move into a new car pool and convert them, and then move to another. Why, I could convert a whole ward in no time at all!
I went to work on my four comrades. Three of them (the lieutenants) obviously never listened to a word I said, or if they did, you couldn’t tell it; my words were like so much water off a duck’s back. But the enlisted man, George Whitehead, he dared not turn me off. I could tell that George was interested; so when it was my turn to drive, I would take the lieutenants home first and then sit and preach to George in front of his house for an hour before I would let him out of the car.
I kept trying to commit George to come to church, but he resisted for a period of about four weeks. Finally, he agreed to attend with me and said his wife, Lucille, would also attend. I was so excited. I remember on the Saturday night before George and Lucille were to attend their first Mormon Sunday School, I went to the chapel, and I washed the back door of the chapel; it was the door I always used to enter the building. I enlisted the aid of a young man who thought I must be slightly psycho. He said, “Why are you washing the back door of the church? Nobody washes the back door of a church!” I assured him that I was washing the back door because it needed to be washed; and besides, tomorrow morning George and Lucille Whitehead were coming through this door. And everything must be perfect for them, so they would see the Lord’s church in its true light.
I presume that no one looks at the Church more critically than does a missionary who is bringing a contact for the first time. How important it is that all the babies be quiet and that the music be beautiful. It would also be nice if everyone sitting on the stand would stay awake, but I guess that is too much to expect.
George and Lucille came to Sunday School, and I was there to meet them. We had a great Sunday School class that day. (I was teaching the class.) George was obviously impressed. He looked for all the world like a sponge, soaking up every word. But his wife, Lucille, sitting beside him, looked like the Sphinx. I couldn’t tell if she had heard a word I had said. I was concerned. I could hardly wait to speak to her after the class.
As we walked out of the chapel, through that clean back door, I said, “Lucille, what did you think of that service this morning?” She said, without a smile, “I was born a Methodist, and I expect to die one.” At that time I had not heard LeGrand Richards’ story about the Englishman and the Scotsman, where the Englishman said, “I was born an Englishman, raised an Englishman, and expect to die an Englishman.” The Scotsman said, “Have ye no ambition?”
I could have used that retort, I presume; but instead I said, “Lucille, I promise you that to be a Latter-day Saint you will never have to give up anything true that you have learned as a Methodist. We have no quarrels with other churches or religious beliefs. We do not write tracts against other churches and we never will, because we are not in the business of tearing down other people’s faith, but, on the contrary, our purpose is to build it up. To our Protestant friends who believe that salvation is by ‘grace through faith’ we say, ‘We believe it too—does not the scripture declare, “… Without faith it is impossible to please him [God]”?’ (Heb. 1:6.) We just wish to add to their faith. So, to our Protestant friends we say, ‘Come let us share with you the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will take no truth from you but will merely add certain works and priesthood authority to what you have.’”
This is essentially what I told Lucille that day. She made no further comment whatsoever. That episode took place in 1952.
In 1958 I was in Washington, D.C., still in the navy, and I received orders to go to the University of Southern California to attend a special course of instruction on aviation safety. While I was in Los Angeles, I was able to spend much time in the Los Angeles Temple. As I recall, I did the work for all of my grandparents and great grandparents. The women who acted as proxy for two of my grandmothers and my own mother (who had subsequently died not having accepted the gospel) was this same Lucille Whitehead who was, as she said, “born a Methodist and expected to die one.” She had not quite made it—in fact, she was ready for baptism just three weeks after she had made that statement to me that Sunday morning in San Diego, California. Why? Because the Holy Ghost had touched her heart, and she knew the gospel was true.
Surely the Lord moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. How could I know that sharing the gospel with a member of my car pool would result in making eternal life possible to my own mother?
There are so many things we don’t know, but our Heavenly Father knows. It behooves us to follow his directions to us, for surely we will be eternally blessed for so doing.