NEW ERA: Let’s start with your decision to go on a full-time mission. How did that come about?
COLIN: My family and I joined the Church when I was about 12 years old. Ever since, I wanted to serve a mission. Of course all worthy young men should go when they turn 19. The prophet has said so. In addition to teaching the gospel and bringing people to Christ, I saw a mission as a way to change my attitudes and overcome my fears. A lot of young people are afraid to stand for something. I wanted to overcome that fear. I also wanted to show a good example, especially for my own culture. So when I turned 19, my bishop called me in for an interview, we filled out the papers, and I received my call.
NEW ERA: How did you feel when you first got to the mission field?
COLIN: At first, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. But then I realized my mum and dad and family weren’t there in person anymore. Some of the reading and studying was hard for me. I had to support my companion, and he did the same for me. I had a lot to learn, personal things that will help me in my life and help me to accept more responsibility in the Church. It’s not a piece of cake. You have to be ready to help the Lord and do his work. That’s what a mission is all about, building in yourself the type of charity the Savior had, doing all you can to share that love with other people. But it’s tough to become like the Savior. At first I felt like giving up.
NEW ERA: But you kept after it?
COLIN: Some of the people really put me down. At first that made it hard. At one stage, I felt like saying, “Hey, I’m going home.” But my companion and I talked it over. I prayed about it, and the Lord told me to stick it out. I decided that’s what I was going to do.
Things started to change as I prayed earnestly and read the scriptures. One of the things that made me stay was a scripture in the Book of Mormon, where Nephi spoke to his rebellious brothers:
“Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him” (1 Ne. 7:12).
I wrote that down and memorized it. Every time I had a bad feeling or the work wasn’t going well, I just remembered that scripture. It lifted me up.
Another scripture that helped me is Mormon 9:14 [Morm. 9:14]. It talks about how we are going to be judged in the last days. I didn’t want to be “filthy still” or lazy still when I come before God, and that scripture really warned me. It made me commit to do my best.
NEW ERA: And as you did your best, what happened?
COLIN: I still had my fair share of tough experiences, but I also had some good experiences. It was like half and half. I discovered that a lot of people are going through tough times, and that the gospel can remind them to look at the good side of life. One lady we taught was discouraged, and we talked to her about trying to be happy, about the real meaning of life and the plan of salvation. Later on, just as I left the mission field, she was baptized. I felt really good inside because I felt the Spirit, and I know she did too.
We had the most success in a place called Campbelltown. Within the space of about four and a half months, we saw about six people join the Church. The members, especially the young adults, were helping us do the missionary work. We found that members were the key to helping us bring their relatives and friends into the gospel. We tried to set the example for them by sharing the gospel with everyone we could. When we brought investigators to church, we helped introduce them to members so that they’d have other friends once the missionaries were gone. When the members get involved, it makes missionary work a whole lot easier.
NEW ERA: What advice would you give to a teenager preparing to serve a full-time mission?
COLIN: Of course you need to be worthy, morally clean, keeping the commandments, studying the scriptures, that sort of thing. Learn to have the Spirit with you so that you can feel good and that other people can feel it too.
Go on trade-offs (splits) and to discussions and meetings that give you a glimpse of what missionary work is all about. Then when you get to the mission field you won’t go through a big shock; you’ll be ready to start right in. I didn’t have that much experience with missionaries before I arrived in the mission field, and that’s one of the things I could have improved on. My companion and I talked to the mission president and said we wanted to go on trade-offs with young men who were getting ready to serve missions. He said that was a great idea—it helped them and it helped us, too.
Another thing I would say is get your patriarchal blessing and study it. I read my patriarchal blessing throughout my mission, and found that some of the things that happened in my mission were discussed in the blessing. For example, it said that I would get to meet a lot of different people in my own country.
NEW ERA: What else did you learn on your mission?
COLIN: That I really enjoyed showing Christlike love to everyone. There are a lot of hard-hearted people in the world. It’s hard for them to open up and express themselves. That’s why you’ve got to help them show love, to help them live happier lives, to help them gain that success they have always tried to find but that can come only with the eternal perspective of the gospel.
In Sydney, I was assigned to work in the immigrant areas. Every time I knocked on a door, people were a bit surprised because they thought Mormon missionaries were mostly white Americans and white Australians. They had never seen an aboriginal LDS missionary before. We told them we had an important message about Christ and tried to be polite and kind. They really liked it. They said come around again. As we came around again, those that were home invited us in and we taught them a discussion.
NEW ERA: Do you think you changed some misconceptions about the Church?
COLIN: I hope that for some people I did. Some of the aborigines would see me and say, “What are you doing?” I would say, “I’m a missionary for my church.” And they would say, “I want to be like you and get a good life.” I told them they should try.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Colin Robert Nilsen of Brisbane served in the Australia Sydney and Australia Sydney North Missions from 1991 to 1993. As a full-blooded aborigine, he offers some interesting insights into missionary work, not only in the land down under, but throughout the world.