The sun poured in the window at the Missionary Training Center as Elder Bruce Edmonds of the West Bountiful (Utah) Fourth Ward quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants. The words he read seemed as warm as the light. “Be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).
Elder Edmonds was part of a scene that’s often repeated at the Missionary Training Center—a district of eight missionaries, studying the scriptures together, basking in gospel light as bright as the sun. Everyone in the room seemed eager to learn, to feel the Spirit, to sing a hymn, join in prayer, or memorize scriptures—all typical activities in the daily schedule of the MTC. They all seemed proud of where they were, what they were doing, and where they would soon be going—in the case of Elder Edmonds, to the Texas San Antonio Mission. And they all seemed so eager to preach the gospel that they could hardly contain their enthusiasm.
But these missionaries of the San Marcos District were typical in another way, too. As they discussed what had helped them prepare for their missions, what had helped them learn about the gospel, and what had influenced them to be worthy and ready, without exception they mentioned one vital, powerful, influencing factor—the Aaronic Priesthood.
“I think the thing that impressed me the most was how much my teachers and advisers cared. They cared about what you did and how well you did. They cared a lot about your life,” Elder Edmonds said.
One floor down, in the same building, members of the Iquitos District had just finished a review of Spanish grammar. As they took a break, one of them, Elder Mark Anderson of the Lyman (Wyoming) Second Ward, who will be in the Costa Rica San Jose Mission, shared some of his feelings about the Aaronic Priesthood.
“It’s a lot of the reason I’m here on a mission,” he said. “At a point where I found I had to have a testimony, my leaders were there to help and guide me.”
Elder Mike Bishop of the Oak Hills (Oregon) Ward, who will also be serving in Costa Rica, agreed that good leaders can help young men prepare for missions.
“My priests quorum adviser,” he said, “inspired me to learn more about the gospel because he knows the scriptures so well he can quote them. He encouraged me to apply myself, to do things rather than just believe them. He taught me you should always do your best. I’m sure these things will carry over to my mission. For example, now when I’m supposed to do something like obey mission rules, I’ll do it not because I have to, but because I want to.”
In district after district, from missionary after missionary, the statements were the same. Lessons learned as a deacon, teacher, or priest can be extremely helpful for elders. The missionaries spoke of the Aaronic Priesthood with fondness, with respect, and often with a sense of urgency.
“I remember passing the sacrament for the first time as a deacon,” said Elder Kenneth Kolb of the Prosser (Washington) Ward and the Peru Lima North Mission. “It made me feel good inside, a feeling that continued as a teacher and a priest. As a priest, saying the sacrament prayer the first couple of times was hard. I wanted to make sure all the words were right. Then I started thinking about how sacred the prayers are and what I was doing. I was up there to bless the symbols of the Lord’s sacrifice, to give everyone an opportunity to renew the covenants they made when they were baptized. I was saying one of the most important prayers we say in the Church.”
Elder William Calhoun of the Mansfield (Ohio) Ward and the Italy Rome Mission recalled how his father impressed upon him the importance of the priesthood.
“On the Sunday that I was to be ordained a deacon, I remember Dad reading to me from the Doctrine and Covenants about the duties a deacon has. It seemed so important. It is important. He helped me take it seriously, emphasizing that I wasn’t only his son, but that I was someone who was worthy to come forth in the latter days and hold the priesthood. He let me know that the tone you set for yourself in your younger years, doing what may seem at the time to be mundane—passing the sacrament, collecting fast offerings, making sure the building is clean—those are the things that set the stage for later on.”
Elder Calhoun also discussed his experiences with home teaching.
“I remember going with my senior companion out to a small country town to home teach an elderly lady who had lost all contact with the Church. One conversation with her led to more conversations with her and eventually became a bridge for her coming back into the Church.”
“Right before I came on my mission,” said Elder Robert Hockett of the Griffin (Georgia) Ward, who will also serve in Rome, “I was made senior companion to a 30-year-old man who had just been baptized. I remember sitting with him as he told a family about hearing the missionaries read from the Book of Mormon, how he knew it was what he’d been looking for for more than 20 years. It was a very spiritual experience, and very humbling, to be assigned to teach a man older than me how to do home teaching.”
And Elder Enoch Groberg of the Mapleton (Utah) First Ward and the Peru Trujillo Mission, told about going home teaching with a high priest as a companion.
“He assigned me the lesson and said, ‘Here, you can give this all by yourself.’ It was a good experience, knowing that he was there to back me up. That gave me a lot of strength, to know I could give a lesson. And that will help me as a missionary, because that’s what you’re going to be doing—teaching people, with somebody good there to back you up. I think home teaching is one of the best things to prepare you for a mission.”
Many of the missionaries said the Aaronic Priesthood had taught them about service, the heart of all priesthood activity.
“We would go down,” Elder Hockett said, “usually on a very cold Saturday morning, and work all day picking pecans in an elderly couple’s 12-acre orchard near Atlanta, Georgia. We’d pick all the pecans we could, sell them, then donate the money to the welfare program. And I remember as a priest, working in the regional welfare cannery, cooking chili for eight or nine hours. And I always remember the father-and-son campouts. My brother and I didn’t have a father, and some of the brethren would always say, ‘Can I be your father?’ or ‘I’ll be your father again this year if you want me to.’ We never felt left out in our ward.”
“You learn basics that you’ll use all your life,” said Elder Christopher Wach of the Holladay (Utah) 12th Ward and the Brazil Porto Allegre Mission. “You start out with a 12-year-old kid, and by the time he’s 18, he’s ready to go on a mission. He’s done service projects, like shoveling walks and cleaning people’s yards. Priesthood is service and missionary work is service, so he’s had good preparation there. He’s learned how to relate with people. And that’s important to a missionary, because people can tell by your actions if you’re sincere. He’s learned to love and study the scriptures, and that helps you as a missionary. He’s built his testimony, and you have to have a testimony to be a good missionary. And he’s learned to feel the Spirit, and if you’ve got the Spirit with you, people will feel it and want you to return.
“And the Aaronic Priesthood prepares you for the Melchizedek Priesthood, too. When I became an elder we did the same basic things—service projects, home teaching, collecting fast offerings—basically service. That’s what the priesthood is, to serve those around you.”
“Even as a 12-year-old, a young man is given a chance to be responsible for something and keep it honorable, to keep it growing in his life,” said Elder Dan Worden of the Camino (California) Ward and the Korea Seoul West Mission. “Then, as he does that, he becomes a teacher and is given a little bit more responsibility. Then he becomes a priest, and has a whole spectrum of responsibility. Most people who have responsibility honor it and respect it, and they grow from it. If you grow up through the Aaronic Priesthood ranks, you’ll never get to the Melchizedek Priesthood and say, ‘I’m just an elder.’ You’ll know that it’s something highly respected.
“Aaronic Priesthood holders need to know there are Primary kids looking up to them and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s going to be great when I can be a deacon.’ If you don’t set a good example, they’re going to lose respect for you and you’re going to lose respect for yourself. The more you honor your priesthood, the more you learn to love the people you work with, and you’ll be better off in any facet of life.”
“The thing that’s great about the Aaronic Priesthood is that it makes you get busy,” said Elder James D. Christensen of the Evanston (Wyoming) Fourth Ward and the Venezuela Caracas Mission. “You have to do everything that your calling dictates, and do it with a willing heart. But as you do, you come to realize that you have been given the powers of heaven.”
Sister missionaries also mentioned lessons they had learned from the Aaronic Priesthood.
“They tell us over and over again how glad they are to have sisters in the MTC, because then the elders settle down a little bit more,” said Sister Allison Wagstaff of the Layton (Utah) Second Ward and the Colombia Cali Mission. “Even in high school girls can have an effect on the way boys act. If it’s important to the girls that the boys honor the priesthood, then it will be important to the boys.”
“I’ve really seen a difference between young men who hold the priesthood and those who don’t,” said Sister Suzanne Harding of the Soda Springs (Idaho) Eighth Ward and the Italy Milan Mission. “But there’s also a difference between those who hold it and honor it, and those who hold it but don’t treat it with respect. I think a young woman needs to strengthen the young men, to help them to be worthy. When someone might be treating his priesthood lightly, you should remind him gently that he is different because he has the priesthood. Tell him how much you appreciate the priesthood in your life, that you’re grateful that your brothers and your father honor the priesthood.”
Some of the elders mentioned specific things their quorums or their leaders had done to encourage missionary preparation.
“We had one lesson at least every two months on preparing to go on a mission,” Elder Kolb said. “On the blackboard we’d list all the things you needed to do to get ready—preparing yourself physically, spiritually, and financially. I felt like my spiritual and physical preparations were okay, but not my financial. So at 15 I got a job planting trees, and I had that job for five years. I’ll be able to pay for my whole mission myself.”
“In our priests quorum, they made sure every returned missionary came and talked about where they went and how they liked it,” said Elder Robert Christensen of the Orem (Utah) 29th Ward and the Korea Seoul West Mission. “They stressed important things to do to prepare, like reading the Book of Mormon.”
“In my ward there were only three deacons, three teachers, and three priests,” Elder Hockett said. “One of them would be president of the quorum and the rest would learn to get along with him as a leader, and then it would switch the next year. So you learned a lot about getting along with people.”
“I remember being called into the bishop’s office for an interview,” said Elder Steve Lloyd of the Casper (Wyoming) Fifth Ward and the Switzerland Geneva Mission, “and realizing that I’d been thinking about the same things the bishop had. He said the Lord had called me to be the first assistant in the priests quorum, and I realized the Spirit had been preparing me to accept the call. It would be tough to be a missionary and not have had experiences like that with the Holy Ghost. You might not recognize what it was when it tried to prompt you.”
Other missionaries spoke of the fellowshipping a quorum provides, not only on Sundays, but also on Scouting trips. They talked of seeing leaders set great examples, of learning humility when they were called to leadership positions themselves.
They spoke of memorizing scriptures in seminary, seeing the sacrifices people make to pay fast offerings, about learning to bear your testimony in your home ward, “in front of people who know you and wish you the best.”
“You may think of some of the things you do as small, but they’re not,” Elder Groberg summarized. “Every chance you have to grow, magnify your priesthood. Don’t bide your time. You really have very little time to prepare.”
Soon the whole day had been spent talking to missionaries, and the conversations had brought a wonderful realization. The elders and sisters of districts like San Marcos or Iquitos—and dozens of others that fill the Missionary Training Center at any given time—represent the success of the Aaronic Priesthood.
Like thousands of other missionaries throughout the world, these elders and sisters have learned and grown, and now they are prepared to share what they know—that the gospel, and the priesthood, exist in their fullness on the earth today.
It was easy to think back to that sun-drenched room where Elder Edmonds had been reading, to think of the Lord’s message about the priesthood combining faith, virtue, and charity, and to remember him closing the scriptures and smiling.
“There’s a great feeling of strength here,” he had said. And something deep inside of me agreed that what he’d said was true.