The ultimate goal of missionary work in the Church is to invite all the inhabitants of the earth to come unto Christ. Six billion people throughout the world are waiting to hear the message of the restored gospel. We are the people so blessed with the charge and responsibility to carry forth that invitation and message.
Every week, nearly 800 recommendations to serve missions arrive at the Church’s Missionary Department in Salt Lake City. These recommendations indicate the faith and obedience of young men and women worldwide in response to the Savior’s declaration of responsibility.
Not long after the stake president recommends a prospective missionary, that long-awaited letter—the call to serve a mission—arrives in the mailbox.
Included in the packet is a page that may go unnoticed at first. It is a form, the Missionary Call Acceptance. This is a personal letter in which the missionary, addressing the First Presidency, formally accepts his or her missionary call. The form contains 15 lines on which the missionary expresses feelings about the singular opportunity of serving the Lord. The letters are usually handwritten, brief, and direct. Yet these few words speak volumes and convey deep meaning. Behind each one is a faith-promoting story.
“My Savior has blessed me more than I ever imagined. He gave His life for me. The least I can do is give Him two years of my life.”
The letters frequently contain expressions of faith in the Savior and gratitude for His sacrifice. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “It is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action” (Lectures on Faith, 1:10). Faith, to be saving faith, must center in Christ and move one to obey Him, to follow His example. In accepting a call to serve, the missionary is expressing sufficient faith to act on his or her beliefs. Blessings will inevitably follow, as so many returned missionaries can testify. Faith in the Savior becomes an anchor to the soul.
“I can’t express the happiness and joy I feel as I accept this call to serve. I am ready and willing to commit two years of my life to preaching the gospel.”
In the acceptance letter, many missionaries state, “I gratefully accept my call to serve.” But I wonder how many missionaries realize the implications of the word accept. It means to receive willingly something given or offered; to respond favorably to; consider right and proper. It also means to be admitted into a group or community. In a gospel sense, it implies submission to the will of the Lord and willingness to follow the prophet, who extends the call. The mission “call” is to serve the Lord with all one’s heart, might, mind, and strength. The mission “assignment” is to serve in the assigned field of labor. The acceptance letter implies willingness to accept both the call and the assignment as the Lord’s will.
“Preparing for my mission has been a long struggle. After deciding to serve a mission, it took almost one and one-half years to overcome problems in my conduct.”
Some letters describe long periods of repentance, of experiences like Alma’s, in which he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” (Alma 36:17). Gratefully, they also speak of the “exquisite and sweet” joy that comes through repentance and forgiveness (see Alma 36:21).
The Lord commands His missionaries to be clean: “But purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature who has not received it” (D&C 112:28). The sacred powers available to those who are ordained of God and sent forth can only be exercised by those who are “purified and cleansed from all sin” (see D&C 50:26–28).
The First Presidency has stated, “Full-time missionary service is a privilege, not a right, for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Missionary service is literally service to the Lord and His Church. Its objective is not primarily the personal development of an individual missionary, although righteous service invariably produces that result” (Letter, June 19, 1998). Priesthood leaders have specific guidelines to ensure that missionaries are spiritually, physically, emotionally, and morally qualified to serve. It is a disservice to the Lord, to the Church, and to the prospective missionary to issue a call when the requirements are not met.
We appreciate the many young men and women who live worthy of a mission call. We have deep gratitude for those who repent and taste the sweet joy of the Atonement. We encourage those who are unable to serve because of physical, emotional, or other reasons to seek other avenues of service, as might be suggested by parents and Church leaders.
“Deciding to go on a mission wasn’t easy. Having a strong passion for the game of baseball made it hard.”
Numerous acceptance letters speak of sacrifice. The young man quoted above was well on his way to fulfilling a life-long dream to play baseball in college, and then perhaps enjoy a career in professional baseball. After ponderous and prayerful thought, however, the answer was certain: he was to serve the Lord. Once the decision was made, his priorities in life became clear.
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “It is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God” (Lectures on Faith, 6:7.) The thought of giving up something we dearly treasure can be difficult, even painful. Yet the Lord abundantly compensates for any sacrifice.
Prospective missionaries write about giving up a prized car, a girlfriend, music, a lucrative job, and many other things. Too many allow such worldly treasures to blind them to spiritual opportunity and divert them from their foreordained mission. On the other hand, we are continually amazed and gratified by those who forsake all to serve the Lord.
“Just two short years ago, I did not have any purpose in life. When I walked the streets, I was scared that people would ask, ‘How are you?’ Finally, two missionaries helped me find the love of Christ. I will find people who have the same feelings I had and show them the purpose of life.”
Mormon wrote, “Perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moro. 8:16). When prospective missionaries learn of life’s purpose and of the Lord’s love, they gain the courage to act in spite of fears. In doing so, they learn the fears were an illusion, a creation of their minds. The Lord repeatedly assures missionaries that He will give them strength to succeed in the face of obstacles. “He that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom” (D&C 52:17). President Harold B. Lee often stated, “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”
One young man spoke to his bishop about his fear that he would not be able to learn the discussions or to teach the gospel. He perceived himself as a poor representative of the Lord. Moses, Jeremiah, Enoch, and others had feelings of inadequacy about their callings. The Lord promised them, however, that he would strengthen them and give them the words that they should say (see Ex. 4:11–12; Jer. 1:7–9; Moses 6:32–34). Missionaries today have the same promise if they will conquer their fears and open their mouths. “Lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say” (D&C 100:5–6).
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “There is a spiritual adventure in doing missionary work” (Ensign, Oct. 1977, 7). To embark on a mission, as so many know, involves many of the same emotions as embarking on some high adventure: excitement, some anxiety, perhaps a touch of fear. In missionary work, we take a step into the unknown. Perhaps we go to a faraway land with a strange culture. We are required to live continually with a companion we have never met before. And the essence of missionary work is meeting and talking to new people, bearing testimony of marvelous and wondrous things that they may find odd. In publicly taking such a stance, we place ourselves at risk of being mocked or scorned. Such is the nature of an adventure, and like many other adventures, we will talk fondly of it the rest of our lives.
Missionary Call Acceptance letters reveal a wealth of spirituality and faith. My own faith is continually strengthened by those who accept calls to serve God, who allow their love for the Lord to overshadow their fears, and who submit willingly to the call of our living prophet. I pray always that every eligible young man, and also every young woman who so desires, may experience the wondrous adventure of a mission.
Recently, the New Era visited with elders and sisters at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Here’s what a few of them had to say about their own decisions and reasons to serve.
Elder Newbold: “When I turned 19, I knew that I should go, but I somehow just couldn’t seem to commit myself. But I started trying to come closer to Heavenly Father and trying to do things that would help me feel the Spirit more. And the more I felt it, the more I felt that I needed to come on a mission. I just want to help somebody else find the happiness that I have found in my life and to show Heavenly Father that I’ll do what He asks me to do.”
Elder Johnson: “My dad would always encourage me to do what I could to have missionary experiences. Recently I was able to help teach a family which came into the Church. And I wanted to have that happen again and be part of the Lord’s work and help bring people to Christ.”
Elder Vanbennekom: “I’m a convert to the Church of about a year and two months. I’ve seen such a great change in my life. I love it, and I just want to share that feeling with everybody else.”
Sister Isaia: “I want people to know the message of Christ so they can know there is a way to be happy in this life and in the next life.”