World population: six billion. Population of Duchesne, Utah: 1,500.
If you looked at a map of the world, you would need a strong magnifying glass to see this tiny mountain town tucked into the southern end of the Uintah Basin. Despite its high-desert beauty, most people just drive through Duchesne on their way to somewhere else.
But this small Utah town is important—so important it could change the world. And if those people driving through stopped for a while and really looked, they would see what’s so special about what they thought was just a dot on their map.
The young men, 16 and older, in the Duchesne Utah Stake have had a tantalizing taste of what it feels like to be a missionary. They held a stake missionary conference, planned by their leaders and two youth cochairs, that attempted to include some aspects of a two-year mission experience into two days. Of course, the young men only got a sampling of what it will really be like to be on a mission, but the experience is one they won’t soon forget.
Nearly 50 would-be missionaries arrived on a Friday afternoon at the Duchesne missionary training center—a.k.a. the Duchesne stake center—in their suits, toting their luggage, with their parents in tow. After a short devotional the young men went through one door into the cultural hall and their parents exited another to head back home (a la MTC fashion).
In the cultural hall, the young men were greeted with dinner, missionary packets, and an assigned companion. Outfitted with name tags that read “Brother_______,” the companionships headed to their first training classes. The classes covered a whole range of topics from learning the first missionary discussion and mission rules, to how to sort laundry and pack a suitcase.
Going to the conference was easier for some than for others. “I thought I had better things to do,” said Jeff Foster of the First ward. But he decided to go anyway. By Saturday afternoon he had changed his tune. “My parents are going to say, ‘I told you so!’” Jeff says. “There are people who don’t want to go on missions because they don’t want to leave their stuff behind—like their jobs and their music or whatever—but it’s worth it!”
“Those are all things you have to give up if you want to go on a mission,” agrees Eric Peatross, who was just called to the England Leeds Mission. Eric has many scholarship offers that won’t wait for him to come back in two years. He’s also leaving behind a job he loves, as well as his band. He says, “It involves a lot of prayer. You really have to know the gospel is true before you can turn all of those things down.” A testimony won’t come all at once, Eric says. His didn’t. He says his testimony, and his determination to go on a mission, came to him bit by bit as he did the things he knew he should be doing to be obedient. In other words, he prepared.
The conference was added preparation for Eric. “These two days have been like spiritual boot camp,” he says.
The levels of preparation at the conference varied from young man to young man. In one class, only one of eight knew how to sort laundry.
Housekeeping details aside, these young men know spiritual preparation is the most important aspect of getting ready for missionary work. Brian Bleazard says, “If I’ve learned anything at this conference it’s that I’m not the greatest teacher. You need the Spirit. It’s the Spirit that teaches.”
“It all comes down to your personal worthiness,” says Eric. Being worthy and obedient means you qualify for the companionship of the Spirit. All the young men were interviewed by their bishops before they went to the conference. The interview gave them a good idea of the things they need to be doing to be worthy to go to the temple and ready to go on a mission.
Their Saturday classes were not only preparing the young men for their missions but also for their teaching appointments later in the day. The companionships were assigned to teach the first discussion to families in their stake, some of which were part-member and less-active families.
“When we went to teach the first discussion I was really nervous, but it was fun,” says Roy Poulsen of the Fourth ward.
Courtney Moon, who was just called to the Mississippi Jackson Mission says, “I’ve always known the gospel is true in my mind, but trying to explain it to someone else really opens your eyes.”
“You’re nervous,” says Cris Hoopes, “but it is a good experience. It’s hard to teach investigators. You have to rely on the Spirit.”
Besides teaching the first discussion, the young men also did what every missionary spends a good deal of time doing: service. They spent all morning landscaping around a chapel, cleaning a section of highway, and beautifying the Duchesne River boardwalk. It was so hot many of the young men were tempted to jump into the river, but a quick check of their missionary handbooks told them swimming was against the rules.
They chose to obey mission rules, just as they are choosing to prepare themselves to go on full-time missions when they turn 19. They are working on their faith and obedience to the gospel. As future missionaries, they know that’s a top priority. Delaney Mecham of the First ward says, “We should all go on missions to bring people to the gospel and to help ourselves. When we’re on our missions our testimonies will grow even more than they have at this conference.”
So what exactly is so important about Duchesne? For one thing, it is the future missionaries preparing to serve the Lord. Their faith and missionary service will change the world one person at a time. And the person each missionary is planning to start with is himself.
“I throw out a challenge to every young man. … Prepare yourself now to be worthy to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. He has said, ‘If ye are prepared ye shall not fear’ (D&C 38:30). Prepare to consecrate two years of your lives to this sacred service. That will in effect constitute a tithe on the first twenty years of your lives. Think of all that you have that is good—life itself, health, strength, food to eat and clothing to wear, parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. All are gifts from the Lord.
“Of course your time is precious, and you may feel you cannot afford two years. But I promise you that the time you spend in the mission field, if those years are spent in dedicated service, will yield a greater return on investment than any other two years of your lives. …
“And above and beyond all of this will come that sweet peace in your heart that you have served your Lord faithfully and well. …
“And so, my dear young brethren, resolve within your hearts today to include in the program of your lives service in the harvest field of the Lord as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 52).
—President Gordon B. Hinckley
“Young men and women who serve missions are never the same. They return home with qualities and strengths that seem to come from no other experience. They know, as they never knew before, that this work is true and that it is the most important work on the face of the earth” (Ensign, Dec. 1986, 4).
—President Gordon B. Hinckley