Every Young Member

by Richard M. Romney

Assistant Managing Editor

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    Sharing the gospel in the Oregon Portland Mission

    Every worthy young man should fill a mission. The Lord expects it of him. … [In addition] every man, woman, and child—every young person and every little boy and girl—should serve a mission. This does not mean that they must serve abroad or even be formally called and set apart as full-time missionaries. But it does mean that each of us is responsible to bear witness of the gospel truths that we have been given” (President Spencer W. Kimball, New Era, May 1981, pp. 46–48).

    Eighteen-year-old Shaun Larsen isn’t exactly small. He stands six feet, four inches tall and weighs more than 250 pounds. He spent most of last summer lifting weights and running to get in shape for football. It seems incredible that anybody would refer to Shaun as a “mini” anything.

    But in the Oregon Portland Mission office one morning, that’s the way Shaun was describing himself.

    “I’m a minimissionary,” he said. “But I give it everything I’ve got.”

    He smiled as he explained. “My dad’s the mission president,” Shaun said. “He’s been asking the teenagers in the mission to help the missionaries. One of the most successful programs has been assigning the young men who are 16 or older to accompany the full-time missionaries for a short period of time—a few days, a week, or a month. So when I finished high school and came up here to live with my parents, I got invited to serve a minimission too.”

    When Shaun wasn’t working with the elders full-time, he spent an evening with them now and then on “splits” (where a missionary companionship divides with members) or shared his testimony when the elders were teaching. “For a whole summer, I was learning that there are ways for each of us to share the gospel. It really opened my eyes,” Shaun said.

    Shaun doesn’t live in Portland anymore. He’s attending Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, and just received a call to serve in the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission. “Working with the missionaries in Portland was good preparation for me,” Shaun said. “I know some of the challenges I’ll probably face, and I’ve seen some of the rewards. How can you not get excited about seeing somebody baptized?”

    Shaun was only one of the 30 or so young men who served minimissions in this vicinity last summer, 30 young men who came away alive with a desire to continue sharing the gospel.

    “A lot of full-time missionaries head for the Missionary Training Center without any previous exposure to what their mission will be like,” said 17-year-old Sean O’Connor of the Gresham Third Ward, Gresham Oregon South Stake, who has served two minimissions. “But here we get a chance to work with the full-time elders, to see what missionary life is like on a day-to-day basis, to discover things we can improve on—like scripture study, personal prayer, sticking to a schedule, or getting up early—and get going on them. Now, with a couple of years to prepare myself, I have a working idea of what I’m trying to become.”

    George Gilman, 16, Joe Vance, 16, and Kirk Moses, 16, all attend the Vancouver Eighth Ward, Vancouver Washington West Stake. They each served alongside the full-time missionaries for one week.

    “It’s become a tradition in our ward for the young men to go on a minimission when they turn 16,” Joe explained. “You are interviewed by your bishop, your stake president, and by the mission president, too. Usually you’re assigned to another city besides the one you live in, and you pay your own expenses. You have to live all the mission rules and standards, dress like a missionary, and have your hair cut, too.”

    “I had always wanted to go on a mission,” George said. “But then I started worrying about things like college and work. I came on my minimission, worked with some really good missionaries, and felt the Spirit. There’s no question now. I know I’m going to go on a full-time mission as soon as I can.

    “I’ve gone to seminary for three years and I knew some scriptures. But now I can see that in just a little while, I’m going to need to remember scriptures and refer to them. It makes it easier to apply yourself when you know you’re going to need it.”

    Joe and George talked about experiences they’d had during their week of service: meeting a lady in the post office who wanted to learn more about the Church; talking with a minister “who thought we were all wrong and wanted to save us”; and listening as the full-time elders taught a couple who were curious because their daughter is a member of the Church. “Tracting is fun when you meet people like that,” George said.

    “We were out tracting and had been turned down five times in a row,” Kirk said. “Then a woman answered the door and invited us in. She said she’d been looking at a lot of different churches and she listened to everything we said. Then she asked if we could come back again the next day. The full-time missionaries have been teaching her ever since!”

    Joe’s older brother Carl, 17, served his second minimission last summer. “I had always thought that missionary work was a total experience of spirituality 100 percent of the time,” he said. “But when I spent a lot of time walking and walking, I was thinking mostly about how my feet hurt. Then it came to me that, even if people didn’t always listen, I still got to bear my testimony. And it helps strengthen it when you bear it.”

    Daniel Larsen, 18, of the Cascade Park Ward, Vancouver Washington Stake, returned to visit Gresham, Oregon, the area he’d served in. Nina Low, a woman he’d met while he was a minimissionary, was getting baptized and wanted him to be there. “It’s the fifth baptism I’ve been involved in because of my minimission,” he said.

    “The work to be done in any given area of the mission field is almost beyond comprehension,” he continued. “But when members get involved, give referrals, and open up their homes for teaching appointments, it helps the full-time missionaries a great deal. Not only that, it also establishes friendships between members and investigators, friendships that will continue after the missionaries are gone.

    Dan said his short-term mission set to rest many of his misconceptions about full-time missionary service.

    “At first I was quite shy,” he continued. “But you meet so many people. And with each one it gets easier to talk and develop conversations. I thought I’d never be able to teach people about the gospel. But I found out missionaries can teach people if they make themselves ready to teach.”

    What really sticks in Dan’s memory is how devoted the missionaries were. “You see a lot more this way than you do on ‘splits.’ There, you’re just with the elders for a few hours. Here, you’re doing what they do, 24 hours a day, without worrying about going home in a little while.”

    Dan wasn’t the only one to be involved in baptisms during a minimission. Brian Wallen, 16, a priest in the Castle Rock Ward, Longview Washington Stake, served in Beaverton, Oregon, for three weeks, witnessing two baptisms and performing one.

    “The missionaries had been teaching Mike, 15, and Joe, 16, for a while before I got there. They’re football players, and they were always talking about weight lifting. I’ve lifted weights, too, and since we’re in the same age group, we had a lot in common. When we talked about the gospel, they seemed to accept my ideas and my testimony. They were baptized the second week I was there.

    “And then I got to baptize Amy Beth Valence. She’s nine years old. It made me feel great to use my priesthood. I didn’t expect to baptize anyone during a three-week mission!”

    Michael Oja, 18, of the Astoria (Oregon) Ward, Longview Washington Stake, met Mission President John A. Larsen following a fireside.

    “Son,” President Larsen said, “I think you’d make a great minimissionary.”

    By mid-July, Mike was in Oregon City, working with the missionaries assigned to the Cambodian branch. “With the help of a translator, the missionaries taught them lessons on the plan of salvation. I met a lot of wonderful converts and helped share the gospel with their families and friends.

    “It’s not like an eight-hour job, where you go home when your time’s up. Sometimes it’s a real long day. But after a while, you start to see that you’re helping people. Their lives start to change, and you get to see it happen.”

    Mike learned something about his wardrobe, too. “I hadn’t thought much about it before, but if I’m going on a mission, I ought to be buying clothing now that I can use then. I’m saving up for suits and white shirts.”

    The day before he was to return home, Mike was interviewed again by President Larsen.

    “One of the neat things about going on a minimission is that you get to know the mission president. You can tell he’s with you all the way,” Mike said.

    President Larsen, who is himself a man of considerable stature, says the idea behind minimissions is simple.

    “Our goal is to give every young member a chance to become acquainted with what it really means to be a missionary,” he said. “We have seen that young men who associate directly with missionary work before they turn 19 have an excellent chance of serving a full-time mission when they do turn 19. We are also trying to involve all of the youth, not just the young men, in sharing the gospel wherever and whenever they can.”

    The youth of the Rockwood Ward of the Gresham Oregon Stake demonstrated that sort of involvement by organizing a different type of missionary activity within the boundaries of their own ward—a missionary weekend.

    “They weren’t called to a teaching mission,” said stake mission leader Greg Meacham. “That’s the full-time missionaries’ job. But they were asked to help the missionaries by finding people who seemed genuinely interested in the gospel.”

    A group of about 20 young men and women arrived at the stake center at 6:30 P.M. on a Friday night. They were assigned to a “partner” rather than a companion, to a “mission home” (a member’s house where they would spend the night), and to one of the “zones” the ward had been divided into, where they would concentrate their efforts the next day.

    All participants were given a list of “mission rules,” which included instructions like “Never leave your partner. Do not accept car rides without prior approval. Avoid shopping malls and stores. Avoid all contention and compromising situations,” and many other regulations.

    A training session Friday night included a description of missionary life and suggestions about how to be courteous when calling at someone’s home. It was followed by a “partner study session” prior to lights out at 10:30.

    Saturday morning began with “partner scripture study” and prayers, followed by breakfast. Then, with permission from President Larsen, full-time missionaries from nearby areas joined the youth to go door to door, talking about the Church with neighbors who might not have otherwise heard about it. The missionaries usually took two or more teenagers with them, especially when the teenagers were young or inexperienced. Only full-time missionaries were allowed to do any teaching, and they decided whether or not to accept an invitation to enter someone’s home.

    “We had one of the older sister missionaries with us, and she was able to answer a lot of questions for people,” said Cathy Spencer, 14. “Even though she’s a grandmother, she was as excited as we were.”

    “We handed out copies of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,” said Susan Spencer, 17.

    “We wanted to get everyone in the community talking about it,” her friend Amy Lyles, 18, added. “In one day, my partner and I found ten families who accepted a book and said they would read it. I was surprised at how many people listened to what we had to say.”

    Aaron Miller, 13, the deacons quorum president, and Jay Fabian, 13, his first counselor, also participated in the weekend activity.

    Aaron found out quickly that the missionaries were in earnest. “They wouldn’t let you goof around at all. They made you go to every door, even if it looked like no one was home.”

    Jay said, “At first it was hard. But then once you got started, it got better. I felt real good when somebody took a book and said they’d read it.” With the help of one full-time missionary, the two young men distributed 11 books.

    Doug Miller, the ward mission leader, felt the youth missionary weekend was a bona fide success. “The local missionaries increased their investigator pool threefold. One sister has since been baptized, and an inactive brother reactivated as a result of what the young people did that day.”

    “The missionary weekend idea started with the Second Ward. Then this ward did it, and now we’re thinking of implementing it on a stake basis,” Brother Meacham said.

    Of course, in addition to minimissions and missionary weekends, the youth of the Oregon Portland Mission contribute to sharing the gospel in more traditional ways.

    Kim Clark, 19, and her sister Christy Ann, 17, of the North Bend Ward, Coos Bay Oregon Stake, have helped bring 18 of their friends into the Church in the past two years.

    “Dennis and Lorry were friends of ours,” Christy said. “Kim knew Lorry from work and I knew Dennis from school. I was talking about our youth temple trip to Seattle, and Dennis said, ‘What’s that?’

    “I told him about temple work, baptisms for the dead, and being sealed to your family. He said, ‘I want to be baptized so I can go to the temple.’”

    Christy called the missionaries that night.

    Meanwhile, at work, Kim was talking with Lorry.

    “I said, ‘Do you go to Church?’ and that started us talking,” Kim explained. “Since I’m the stake Young Adult rep, it was easy to invite her to a Young Adult conference, then to church. I introduced her to the missionaries, and soon both Dennis and Lorry were having the missionary discussions.” Within two weeks, both were baptized.

    Another time, Kim and Christy’s 13-year-old cousin and her parents dropped in unannounced from Los Angeles.

    “They invited us out to dinner and we talked about the Church,” Christy said. “Our cousin seemed really interested, and her parents said it was okay for her to listen to the missionaries.”

    Kim told about a home evening during which the missionaries taught about Christ, baptism, and temple work. “She was excited about her family being sealed together,” Kim said.

    Now the cousin is being baptized. “And she’s working on her parents too,” Christy said.

    “It doesn’t just have to be adults who are responsible for getting their families sealed,” Kim said. “Share the gospel with children and teenagers, and their parents may get interested too.”

    Back in Gresham, where her family lives now, Sean O’Connor’s 19-year-old sister, Erin, remembered the example young Latter-day Saints set for her when, at 15, she had just moved to The Dalles, Oregon, from Oklahoma.

    “They were all so friendly,” she said. “I kept wondering how these people could care so much about somebody they didn’t even know. But what impressed me the most was how close they were to their families.

    “I guess there’s a lot you can say about studying hard and having the Spirit, and working, and everything else. All those things are vital. But for me, the number one ingredient in missionary work is example. It’s the way you live. There’s just no substitute for that.”

    Youth missionary service is provided in a number of different ways in the Oregon Portland Mission. But one thing is sure—every young member has the opportunity to do something. And whether the service provided is through everyday example, through missionary weekends, or through a minimission, the joy of sharing the gospel is always at a maximum.

    “A Book of Mormon with your picture and testimony inside keeps sharing even after you leave.”

    —Cathy Spencer, 14
    Gresham, Oregon

    “They seemed to accept my testimony. They were baptized the second week I was there.”

    —Brian Wallen, 16
    Castle Rock, Washington

    “The number one ingredient in missionary work is example. There’s just no substitute for that.”

    —Erin O’Connor, 19
    Gresham, Oregon

    “Share the gospel with teenagers, and parents see the example and get interested too.”

    —Kim, 19, and Christy Clark, 17
    Coos Bay, Oregon

    Photos by Richard M. Romney

    In hilltop suburbs, where a mansion includes a room just for kids, and in town, where brick plazas and historic buildings meet, gospel light is spreading.

    Perhaps it’s only normal that in a city of bridges, young Saints know the gospel can bridge over the loneliness so many people feel in life.

    City of flowers, Portland boasts gardens to rival any in the world. But members and missionaries bring a message of peace sweeter than a stroll through any garden.

    Daniel Larsen, left, learned that in a metropolitan melting pot like Portland, missionaries depend on members to introduce them to neighbors and friends.