“In the work of the Lord, we all learn one great lesson: Each of us stands tall on the shoulders of giants who preceded us,” Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during a jubilee to commemorate 50 years of missionary training. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was also present and spoke prior to Elder Nelson’s address.
In a devotional at the Provo Utah Missionary Training Center during which five renovated buildings were dedicated, Elder Nelson bid missionaries and former MTC presidents and their wives to honor those who had come before them, including those for whom buildings at the MTC were named. “These heroic missionaries established a legacy of commitment to the Lord’s purpose that is preserved and strengthened by the many thousands who have also responded to the call to serve,” Elder Nelson said.
The courage and sacrifice of early missionaries, he added, should set the standard for us today. Recounting experiences of those who paved the way, he told stories of unwavering conviction from the first missionary, Samuel H. Smith, and the first sister missionary, Harriett Nye, among others.
Never Underestimate the Effect You Can Have
We must never underestimate the profound effect we can have in gathering Israel, Elder Nelson said. He retold an instance where his willingness to simply lend a battered copy of the Book of Mormon to a young woman changed her life and the lives of many others in generations to come.
During the Korean War a young army nurse named Beverly regularly assisted Elder Nelson in performing operations. At the end of one particular operation, she asked him: “What makes you different from the other surgeons I work with?” Elder Nelson took that opportunity to bear his testimony and lend her the Book of Mormon.
“One week later, her husband returned the book and said, ‘Thanks a lot.’” Elder Nelson replied, “‘You didn’t read it, did you?’ ‘Please take it back and read it prayerfully and then I want my book back.’ When they returned, they said tearfully, ‘We have read the Book of Mormon. We know it’s true. We want to know more.’”
From One Simple Gesture, 309 Conversions
Elder Nelson went on to baptize both of them and, 30 years later, was reunited with Beverly at a conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. He found that because of his simple gesture, 80 people had been converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2012, the list had expanded to 309 people.
“The Book of Mormon is the most effective book available to help you teach of the Lord,” Elder Nelson said. “It is a tangible sign to the world that the promised gathering of Israel has begun.”
One Million Missionaries
The gathering of Israel began with the legacy of those earliest missionaries, said Elder Nelson, but it finishes with us. The Provo MTC saw its one millionth missionary in June 2007, nearly 50 years after its creation on December 4, 1961.
“You are now part of this vast army of missionaries,” Elder Nelson said. “You have been invited to call others to come unto Christ. The Savior received this doctrine from His Father. With our faith in Their literal being, we can repent and enter into the true Church, … and then we help one another to endure to the end.
“This is part of President Monson’s vision that we all are to participate in the rescue. Helping Heavenly Father’s children return to Him will be a vital part of your individual missionary labors. As you enter this Provo MTC, you see in its lobby a replica of a large stone. The caption on it reads: ‘What e’er thou art, act well thy part.’” (This motto inspired the ninth President of the Church, David O. McKay, when he was a missionary in Scotland.)
Honor the Tradition of Missionary Work
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also bore his testimony at the devotional. He said we have a sacred responsibility to continue missionary work.
“You may not be as talented as you’d like to be; … you may or may not have all the baptisms that you would like; there are a lot of things that you won’t be able to control,” Elder Holland said. “But there is one thing that you can control and that is that you honor the office to which you’ve been called. You honor the sacred role of missionaries in this church.
“They’re passing the baton to you. Every generation has to pass it to the next generation … until this work is finished. You are under covenant; you are duty-bound to honor the tradition that missionary work holds in this church. You’re not perfect, but you are obligated to being the best you can be in the service you’ve been called to give.
“To stand as firmly and truly and valiantly as you can, you can control that. That is within your province, to take your place in history and stand proudly and tall and straight wherever you serve in this world. … God bless you tonight and tomorrow and forever.”