Zone Conference is a large meeting conducted by the Mission President. We traveled to Guadelupe recently to attend Zone Conference with 3-4 zones.
We also have local District Meetings, and Zone Meetings here on St Martin. Each week we meet for these meetings to talk about the progress of missionary work in the area and to do training. Three weeks of the month are District Meeting (conducted by the District Leader–a leader over 4-10 missionaries), and one week is Zone Meeting (conducted by the Zone Leaders–leaders over 1-4 Districts).
Today was Zone Meeting, conducted by Elders Glover and Pape. The were reviewing information they received at a recent Mission Leaders Council.
The missionaries are roll-playing: Sister Robinson and Hodge are attempting to convince an uninterested family member (Elder Pape) to join them during the weekly lesson. Elder Pape, Elder Broadbent, and Elder Mills are roll-playing the meaning of fasting Elder Pape and Elder Glover conducting Zone Meeting The missionaries enjoying a meal after the meeting. Each week they learn how to make an easy slow-cook meal in a crock-pot. Today was a tika masala indian meal with naan bread, with brownies for desert! The missionaries are very excited about what is happening on St Martin! Each week more and more people are becoming interested in the gospel, and our last Sacrament meeting was a stunning example of the increase of the Spirit of God in the Branch. The new Branch Presidency are working hard and setting a wonderful example of righteous service. The results of their work and testimony are becoming obvious to everyone.
Each week they give me a little time to talk about issues and problems that I have seen and can aid them in. I also try to find a talk or lesson to hand out to the missionaries to read later. Today I gave them the following lesson about teaching to aid them in becoming better teachers of the Gospel:
Teaching the Gospel
Now we get down to the real business of being on a mission: teaching the gospel. Everyone teaches the gospel differently. That is the way it is supposed to be. The doctrine that is taught must be the same, but the way it is taught can be completely different. The reason the Church has provided discussions for every missionary to learn is to ensure the doctrine taught by 60,000 missionaries is always the same. But once the information has been learned, how it is taught is up to the missionary. Hopefully, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the missionary will be able to understand the perfect way to touch the individual they are teaching. For example, it does not matter which discussion you teach first. You can teach number one first, or number six, or you can teach number three and go back and forth and upside down or in a circle. It doesn’t matter. There are only two things that matter. Do not change the doctrine you have been taught, and make certain the individual you are teaching understands. If they do not understand what you have taught, you have not done your job properly.
Create the Right Atmosphere
When teaching someone, the first thing you must do is create the right atmosphere. This is not always easy and means that sometimes you must be bold with total strangers. As you enter the home, before you even ask anyone to pray, you need to take stock of your surroundings. What is the atmosphere in the room? What are the people you are going to teach doing? Is there anything in the room that will detract from what you will be teaching? Are the people you will be teaching prepared to listen? Here is what you must do:
- If there is music playing, or if the TV is on, you must ask them to turn it off.
The room should be as quiet as possible in order for those you are teaching to fully concentrate on what you are saying, so they will be able to feel the Spirit when it comes. If they don’t comply, refuse to teach. This is a deal breaker. If they are not willing to give their complete attention, it will be a waste of your time anyway.
- If those you are teaching are smoking and/or drinking liquor, you must ask them to stop.
Ask them to put their cigarettes out and put their liquor away. If they ask why, tell them that your religion prohibits these products and that you would appreciate it if they would cease using them, at least while you are in their home. If they refuse, this is also a deal breaker. If they are blowing smoke in your face, or continuing to drink in front of you, it is a sign of disrespect. If they do not honor the calling you have as a servant of God, they will not listen anyway.
- Talk to those you will be teaching for a little while before starting the lesson.
Get to know them. By learning something about them, you will have a better understanding concerning what lesson to teach them. Do not simply assume you will teach lesson number one! Remember the lesson of the well. The more you learn about them, the easier it will be for the Spirit of God to inspire you as to what lesson to teach and what words to say in order to touch their hearts and minds.
Once you get to know the family, choose an appropriate lesson as inspired by the Spirit of God within you. Do not be afraid to be bold, even with strangers.
- Always start with a prayer and ask them for permission to kneel.
If they say no, accept their hesitation and pray while seated. However, getting them to humble themselves by kneeling is a good sign of what their attitude towards God will be.
Preparing men’s hearts to listen
This instruction comes from Elder Gene R. Cook:
“You, as the teacher, must do all in your power to prepare the hearts of men so the Spirit can teach. May I suggest seven scriptural performances (see Alma 31:10) that, if humbly employed, will immediately invite the Spirit into your heart and the hearts of others.
- Pray. Pray for the Spirit. Ask those you teach to pray for you and for themselves while you are teaching. Ask for discernment to understand the needs of those you visit (see 3 Nephi 17:2–3; 20:1; D&C 136:29, 32).
- Use the Scriptures. They are the words of the Lord to us, and the Spirit of the Lord will speak through them to all, both young and old (see 2 Nephi 32:3; Alma 31:5; D&C 32:4).
- Testify. If you follow His promptings, the Lord will direct you to testify frequently throughout these visits. Testify that the Lord has sent you. As you do, “the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1; see also Alma 5:44–47).
- Use music. Using recorded hymns or singing the songs of Zion with or to the Saints in their homes, as prompted, will always bring the Spirit of the Lord (see D&C 25:12, Matthew 26:30, Colossians 3:16, I Samuel 16:23).
- Express love and gratitude to God and man. Express love openly for God and for His children, and the Spirit will be felt profoundly (see John 13:34–35, I Nephi 11:21-23, Moroni 7:47–48).
- Share spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences have great impact upon men’s souls. Share them as prompted by the Spirit (see D&C 50:21–22, Luke 10:25-37, Acts 26:1–32).
- Perform priesthood ordinances. “In the ordinances . . . the power of godliness is manifest” (D&C 84:20). Bless the Saints. Bless the sick. Bless the homes of the Saints. Encourage others to seek priesthood blessings (see 3 Nephi 20:2–9).
Brethren, these seven suggestions—one or more as needed—will always bring the Spirit of the Lord into your visits. Are these not some of the spiritual gifts that Christ gave that prepared the way for the Holy Ghost to testify and change men’s hearts? Spiritually give of yourself, and your visits will not then be routine, but you will discern the needs of the Saints. You will commit them in the Spirit to act. They will repent and come unto Christ. (Elder Gene R. Cook, Conference Report, October 1988)
Don’t be afraid to be bold
One of the things that separate a good missionary from a great one is his ability to be bold. The Spirit of God makes men bold. It also prepares those whom you teach to accept what you will ask of them, even though at the time it might be totally against everything they currently believe. Being bold means using your faith and the Spirit of God to convince people to do what is right, even if they are not yet prepared to do so. This is especially important in helping people get over physical addictions. Let me give you an example:
This is an idea that came from President Pinnock. He challenged us to challenge those whom we taught to change their lives immediately. There was no need to wait until they received several discussions before confronting them about changing their lives for the better. It all had to do with being bold enough to get people to commit to actions from the first moment of contact. It had to do with something every salesman knows (President Pinnock was an insurance salesman). The more you get people to say yes, the more you get them to make some kind of commitment—any kind of commitment—the more often you will be able to bring them all the way to baptism. One of those commitments was to convince them to get rid of their cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc., at the first meeting. This was done directly and without fanfare.
“We have taught you concerning the Word of Wisdom and the importance of keeping our bodies clean and pure in order to be able to feel the Spirit of God in our lives. We know you also believe these substances are harmful. We want you to commit to get rid of (whatever it might be). You know this is the right thing to do. We know you will feel good about your decision and yourself if you follow through with this commitment. Will you get rid of (whatever it might be)? We will help you.”
“Show us where your alcohol is and we will help you pour it down the drain.” Then get up and help them actually do it.
“Tell us where you keep your cigarettes and we will take them with us.” Then get up and get the cigarettes. Promise you will throw them away (don’t throw them away there, or they may just get them again).
There were many times we were able to do this in the first discussion! We would teach the Word of Wisdom and the commandments as a first discussion, especially on Sundays. Over time, and as we saw people respond to our requests, we became increasingly bold and soon had absolutely no hesitation in asking people to give up their habits and their addictive substances.
Don’t be afraid to start with the hard stuff
Many missionaries are afraid to start with the “hard stuff” under the assumption that people will not accept doctrine that is new. But, from long experience, I have found this is just not true. People crave the truth; they long to know that there is something bigger than themselves out there. When confronted with large ideas or concepts, they are actually comforted.
Missionaries sometimes try to “sneak” doctrine, ideas, and commitments by investigators, as though they will say yes without really understanding what they are doing. But this is deceptive and is not consistent with the open and honest spirit you should be developing with your investigator. Besides, it rarely works. Sooner or later you will have to actually ask them the hard questions: “Will you give up your coffee?” “Will you come to church?” “Will you be baptized?” Why beat around the bush? What makes you think their answer will be any different if couched in subtle language? And if you do somehow get them to agree without completely understanding, what good have you really done? Are you also going to deceive the Lord and sneak this person into the Kingdom of God? I don’t think so.
It is always better to be up front and honest with people and do it right at the beginning, then you don’t have to do it again and again. For example, why ask if you can come back again? Why not come right out and say, “We have six discussions that will teach you about our church. Would you be willing to listen to these discussions?” If they say yes (and most people who would invite you back anyway, would also agree to all of the discussions), then you do not have to go through this process for every discussion. When you see they agree to take all the discussions, broach the subject of baptism right off the bat. Don’t wait! This does not mean you have to commit them to be baptized. It just means you broach the subject so when the time comes to ask them to make the commitment, it is no longer a surprise—they are actually expecting the question to come.
“Many people who listen to these discussions ask to join our Church and be baptized. While you listen to the things we teach will you think about your own baptism?” Of course they will feel a little uncomfortable and say they were not thinking of joining the Church! “We don’t expect you to feel that way now. After you have heard all of the discussions, if you have no desire to join the Church and be baptized, then, of course, that is your decision.”
There, it is done. It wasn’t hard, and from then on, in the back of their mind, they will have the question: Should I join the Church? And when the time comes that you feel good about actually asking them to be baptized, there will be no surprise; no need to try and sneak it past them or hide the commitment in subtle terms. They will already know that baptism is the end result of these discussions. The most important thing you have done, however, is plant the idea of baptism in their minds so the Holy Ghost can prepare them for when you do ask them to be baptized. Remember the lesson of the well! You have now planted knowledge in the well of their minds so God can work upon, and draw upon, that knowledge for their eternal salvation.
Stop and listen
An extension of spending time learning about the family is stopping and listening to them during the discussions. After every concept, ask questions to make sure they understand. Never continue to the next concept or discussion until you are sure they understand and are ready, and the only way to know they are ready is to ask questions. Then listen. Just as you listened to them at first, to discover with which discussion to begin, listen to them during the discussion to discover their problems, objections, concerns, and hesitations. Many times, even most of the time, the thing you think is holding them back from committing to baptism is not their only, or even their real, concern. It takes a lot of questions and spiritual perception to discover their real concerns. Take the time to find these concerns, and your challenge will be easier.
Listening also provides you with the inspiration you need to discover what to teach them next. Most of the time the concepts within the discussion will proceed exactly as outlined. However, always let the Spirit guide you as to the direction you should take. As noted in a previous chapter, a good missionary knows the discussions backward and forward. If necessary, you should be able to jump from one discussion to another and back again without a hitch. That is the reason the last discussion is an overview. If you have had to jump around during the discussions, the overview will pick up anything you may have missed.
Don’t be afraid to create your own discussions, if required. Every once in a while, those you are teaching will have problems that are not addressed in the standard discussions. Since it is imperative that you resolve all of their problems prior to committing them to baptism, there will be times you must teach a discussion that addresses their specific problems. This is completely appropriate. Just make certain the doctrine you teach is correct. If you are unsure, talk to your leaders or make sure an adult member goes with you to the discussion (this works well when dealing with any sticky situation—an adult member can help bring wisdom and experience to a situation with which you have never personally dealt).
As you proceed with the discussions, remember you are preparing people for eternity, not just a quick jump in the font. You will do yourself and those you are teaching a disservice if you go too quickly through the discussions. If those you are teaching come into the Church unprepared, they will quickly leave. Why rush through a baptism that will mean nothing in a few months’ time? I have seen missionaries and leaders push for baptisms, looking only for the numbers without focusing upon those whom they are teaching. Oh, they get the numbers, but the numbers mean nothing if people fall away a short time later. Let me state again, with emphasis: Never continue with the discussions until they understand what you have taught and are ready for the next concept. Never bring someone into the waters of baptism who you know is not ready to make that commitment.
When I was ward mission leader in Connecticut, we had a young man seeking baptism who clearly was not ready. The elders became upset with me when I told them he should not be baptized. However, as I had predicted, he did not pass the interview. A year later, some sister missionaries tried to get him baptized. I told them he still wasn’t ready to be baptized and to be patient, but all they wanted was to see him become a member of the Church. Again, as I had predicted, he did not pass the interview. Another year went by and another set of elders with the same result. Finally, the young man came to me humbled and repentant. He had taken the time to clear up the problems in his life and was now ready. It was worth the wait. He passed his interview, was baptized, and became a faithful member of the Church.
There are many stories of people “rushed” into baptism. You have all heard the stories of “basketball” baptisms, where young men are baptized so they can play on Church basketball teams. I know of one boy who had just been ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood and wanted to “practice” on someone. His best friend, a nonmember, agreed to be baptized to please his friend. Of course he went inactive immediately. The stories are numerous and the results are usually the same—those rushed into baptism for any reason before they are truly converted quickly fall away.
Resolve all of their problems
Every discussion will bring up problems your investigators have which prevent them from accepting the gospel and being baptized. It is very important each and every problem is resolved as it comes up. Many missionaries ignore or gloss over these problems in an attempt to get their investigators baptized. This path is filled with pitfalls and will ultimately end in failure. First of all, if you do not resolve their problems, most of the time you will never get them baptized. They will simply follow along until it is time to commit to be baptized and then begin to give you one excuse after another until you either give up in frustration or finally solve their problems. Secondly, if you do get them into the waters of baptism before their problems are resolved, they will just fall away. Their problems will slowly pull them back into their previous life. Either way, this path leads to failure. So take the time up front to resolve the problems presented to you.
All problems can be resolved! Some problems may seem so confusing or difficult that you fear there cannot possibly be a solution. But I promise you, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost you can find a solution to every problem. Here are some of the most common problems you will find:
- What to do if investigators are not married but living together.
This is very common today. In foreign countries it is even more acceptable; it is called “common law” marriage. However, even if it is acceptable in the country in which you are serving, it is not acceptable for entrance into the Church. The solution is simple. First, teach the law of chastity (discussion 4) and commit them to living it. This does not mean you require them to not be intimate anymore (a requirement they would not fulfill), but you convince them to get married. Once they are married, and if they are living the other commandments, you will be able to baptize them.
One couple I taught on my mission had been living together for some time. Once it came out they were not married, we immediately told them there was a problem. We taught them the law of chastity and convinced them to get married. The funny thing is, even though we were able to persuade them to get married they never joined the Church! In spite of this, we felt very good about making their lives better.
- What to do about the Word of Wisdom.
This is the most difficult of all problems you will face. You will be dealing with physical addictions, not moral ones. The reason this is not a moral problem is because few other religions believe any part of the Word of Wisdom. Many of these addictions can be classified as sicknesses, which may take a doctor’s care or even hospitalization. Should the addiction be too serious to overcome by the individual, he should be encouraged to first seek professional help to correct his addiction, and then, after his addiction is resolved, he can try again to meet the requirements to join the Church. If you see honest progress, you may go ahead and baptize him. However, we come back to the same principle we have covered before: never knowingly baptize anyone who still has a problem. They will simply fall away from the Church when the addiction returns.
Most people and families have traditions: religious traditions, family traditions, ethnic traditions, etc. It is important to realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just another religion but a lifestyle. This lifestyle will profoundly affect their lives and the lives of everyone with whom they associate: family, friends, coworkers, etc. You should be honest and up front about the changes that will occur in their lives. Most, if not all, of these changes are positive ones, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be profound changes in their lives for which they must prepare. It is always better to help people understand these changes and face up to them. People often leave the Church when they find it is harder than they thought it would be. It always works out better if they are prepared for the trials that lie ahead.
The best and only way to deal with the problem of religious and ethnic traditions is to convince your investigators of the truth. Sometimes this means you have to do some research. For example, most of the people in Pennsylvania were Catholic. In order to overcome their problems with religious tradition, I bought a Catholic Bible, which had the Catechism, the Apostles Creed, and a section on doctrine of the Catholic Church. Once I was able to show people what their church really taught (such as a child who is not baptized goes to hell), it became much easier to overcome their doubts about the truthfulness of the doctrine we were teaching.
The best way to deal with family traditions is to get investigators to read the Book of Mormon. As they read about the Lamanites and the damage that false tradition had on their lives, you can show them that if they continue to live their own false traditions they will simply perpetuate damaging lies into their own posterity. However, if, like Abraham, they decide to obey the Lord and change their family traditions, they will take the straight and narrow path that will create generations of righteous posterity. Help them understand that their posterity will look back upon them like Abraham, as the father of the faithful.
All problems with tradition can be overcome. You simply use wisdom and your knowledge of the truth to dispel false traditions. Some prior family traditions will have to change after baptism, and those extended family interactions may become strained. These will be overcome by the faith and testimony of your investigators. It is simply a trial they must face. If they face it head on, their faith will grow stronger. It is not easy for people to face their family with these changes. When married in the temple, their family cannot come. If they usually have wine with their meals, or toasts at celebrations, they may feel uncomfortable sitting these out. Many people have daily habits that are a big part of their lives that will change and destroy relationships. There is nothing you can do about this. It is part of life, part of becoming a Mormon. All you can do is to strengthen their faith, be honest and up front about the trials they will face, and assure them that the eternal blessings they and their family will receive will be worth it.
- Fear of rejection.
This problem is similar to family and ethnic traditions. The only way to resolve your investigators’ fear is with a strong dose of faith. Do not lie and tell them their friends and family will not reject them, because it is very possible they will. You can tell them most of their friends and family will eventually come around, because they will learn to respect the new life they will lead. This is true, since your investigators will become better people as a result of living the gospel. Others will see that change, eventually accept it, and develop a new and better relationship with the investigators. Having gone through this myself, I know this is how the process works. Almost all my friends, who at first rejected me after joining the Church, became my friends again. The relationship was different, we could not do many of the same things together, but they learned to respect the choice I had made. The end result was a positive one, but it was very difficult to go through. Do not hide the trials they may face; prepare them for it!
Teach how to recognize the Spirit
Most people do not know what the Spirit of God feels like. They have felt guilt. They may have even felt the Holy Ghost at times, but only briefly, and they probably did not know what it was they were feeling. So it is up to you to teach them. This principle is so important you should actually stop the lesson to teach it. Do it at least once per discussion for perhaps the first three discussions, or at least until you are certain they understand. Let me give you an example:
When I was ward mission leader in Connecticut, I went out on splits with the missionaries to a wonderful family they were teaching. It was clear they were interested, but they were struggling to know if it was true. They had obviously felt the Spirit already, but it was also obvious they did not know they had. So, during this discussion and after bearing my testimony to them about the concept I was teaching, I recognized the presence of the Spirit in the room. As soon as I felt the strong presence of the Spirit and saw they were being affected by it, I stopped the discussion and told them what they were feeling at that moment was the Spirit of God testifying to them what I was teaching them was true. I told them this was what the Spirit of God felt like and asked them to remember it. I waited a few moments in silence, as we all concentrated our minds on what we were feeling instead of what we were teaching. I then continued with the discussion.
Over time, your investigators will learn to recognize the Spirit of God. Once they begin to recognize it, they will also begin to accept what you are teaching is true. They will know you are a true servant of God because you have brought this feeling of peace and light into their home, perhaps for the first time. This experience of feeling the Spirit of God is the most powerful tool you have. Use it.
Another important thing you will learn is to help those you are teaching progress towards baptism through proper follow-up. Especially in the beginning, the only reason people let you in the door and listen to you is because of the Spirit you carry. When you are gone, the Spirit fades and resistance sets in. To prevent this, you need to follow up with each and every person you contact and teach, sometimes several times a week. By going the extra mile in this area you will find your labors will not have been in vain. Why tract day after day, finally finding someone to teach, only to lose them again because you are too lazy or forgetful to give them a call or send them a note? Once you have made that first positive contact, you must continue to monitor them carefully or you will lose them. For clarity on the subject I again turn to President Pinnock:
EFFECTIVE INVESTIGATOR FOLLOWUP AND CALL-BACKS: Contact all investigators every two or three days. The best contact is to teach them a discussion. With the pressures of living in today’s world, the special Spirit you bring into homes as you teach the gospel is lost when there is too much time between meetings. Take time to do the little things for your investigators. It’s the little things that show people we really care. Call or send a card when there is sickness. Send thank-you cards after dinner appointments. Take special interest in children if they have problems, remember birthdays and anniversaries, etc.
There is a need to spend more time doing call backs. Our work is often wasted when we fail to get back to those who have expressed an interest in our message but can’t see us when we initially contact them.
If you don’t ask, they can’t say “yes”
The most difficult question for most missionaries is asking people to be baptized. Some are so intimidated by the moment, they never ask the question. Let me tell you a story:
Soon after I arrived on my mission, I met an elder who was fearful and disappointed that he was about to go home and had never baptized anyone. He had been homesick from the first day he came on his mission. He had spent his time and effort complaining about mission life and all the rules he had to keep. He had never learned how to teach or how to commit people to baptism. When I met him, he and his companion were teaching a family that was ready for baptism but the missionaries were just too afraid to ask the question. I went on a split with the elder to this wonderful family. After leaving, I asked him why they were not yet baptized, as they were obviously ready. He gave me some lame excuse about the time not being “exactly” right. Two weeks later, we heard a most astounding thing. This family had been baptized into another church! They were so anxious to be baptized and cleansed of their sins they could no longer wait for the elders to ask them. They simply went to the nearest church and had it done. Now the elders were anxious to talk with this family about baptism, but it was too late. When they brought up the subject, the family simply said they had no need as they had already been baptized. Now instead of participating in the baptism of this family, these elders had a whole new hurdle to jump over. This elder never did experience the joy of bringing a family into the waters of baptism, but I learned a powerful lesson I never forgot: Don’t be afraid to ask!
One of the problems many missionaries face is collecting professional investigators. A professional investigator is a person who loves the missionaries but will not commit to be baptized. These are people who are always willing to meet with, feed, and listen to the missionaries. They open their home and let the missionaries watch TV and play video games because they love the missionaries. But when it comes down to their true interest in the Church and its doctrine, they have none. They may agree to listen to the missionary discussions several times in order to please the missionaries and keep them coming back, but when it comes to making any commitments or becoming members of the Church, they will not do it.
As hard as it might be, missionaries must walk away from these people! Since they are not willing to commit to becoming members of the Church, they are simply wasting the missionaries’ time. Wasting a lot of time. The missionaries would actually find more success tracting than continue working with professional investigators. For most missionaries, this is a tough decision. Let’s see, having dinner with good friends in a warm home or going out tracting on a cold night. What would you choose? I remember when I had to choose.
I had just been transferred to Pittsburgh from Altoona. Altoona was a place of miracles and unbelievable success. Pittsburgh was immediately a trial of long days with little or no success. However, we had a whole box of call-back numbers—people who had been taught before who were still willing to listen to the missionaries. So, rather than tract every day, we began to go through the call-back list to see what we could find. I was amazed at how many people asked us to come over, have dinner, watch TV, and talk about home. When I asked them about giving a lesson they would say, “Oh, we’ve already heard them all before! Would you like some dessert?” I had never experienced professional investigators before. President Pinnock had talked about them, and told us to avoid them, but, until now, I had not had to make that particular choice. And it was a choice that we had to make. On the one hand, we had nothing to look forward to but endless days of tracting. On the other hand, we had a number of families that wanted us to come over and spend time with them. It was easy to try to believe these people would someday join the Church, that it was our duty to visit these people as long as they were willing to let us into their homes. It would have been so easy….
But, of course, it was all a lie. They would never be baptized because they had no real interest in hearing the discussions. They would never be baptized because they had never once picked up the Book of Mormon to read it. They would never be baptized because they did not believe what we taught. But they loved the missionaries! As a person of conscience, I had no choice but to drop the professional investigators from our lists. I had no choice but to leave the comfort of their homes, go into the cold, dark streets, and begin again to knock on doors.
So, how is it done? How did we go into the homes of these nice-but-misguided people and tell them we would not be back? We did it with candor and the slight hope that something would touch them and they would finally commit. After all, what did we have to lose?
We decided to challenge them, nicely. We told them that because of our commitment to the Lord we would no longer be able to come to their home unless they were serious about taking the discussions and becoming a member of the Church. We said there were many people who wanted to be taught, and join the Church, and make a commitment to the Lord through baptism. Then we asked whether they were willing to be baptized (remember, most of them had already taken the discussions; sometimes several times). If they said no, we told them we understood, thanked them for all they had done for us, and said goodbye. We hoped that at least a few would tell us they really were interested in joining the Church, but they just weren’t ready yet or something like that. I was truly surprised at how many of them, who had been willing to meet regularly with the missionaries, were unwilling to make any kind of commitment to join the Church.
We had started with a whole box of referrals and call-backs. After weeding out those who had no interest, we were left with only two families, one that was eventually baptized and the Brown family. We were back on the street, all day long, knocking on doors, but it was worth it. The time came when our real missionary work paid off. We began to teach every day and soon had many families working toward baptism. What would have happened if we had decided to continue working with the professional investigators? Nothing at all.
I will talk about the Brown family at length, so first let me tell you about the other “professional” family that was actually baptized during this period of time. The first time I met this family was at Church. In fact, I had been to Church several times before I realized the members of this active family were not members of the Church at all. And by active I mean just that. Both parents had callings in the Church, paid a full tithe, and both their young children attended and loved Primary. For all intents and purposes, they were one of the most faithful and active families in this branch, yet they had never been baptized! The father refused to be baptized because he said he didn’t “know” the Church was true. In other words, he was looking for some kind of sign—or at least that is what he said. Personally, I believe that he just didn’t want the responsibility that came with obtaining the priesthood. Week after week, this wonderful family would come to Church, participate, and refuse to be baptized. Finally, I decided to do something about it.
I asked the father of this family if we could talk with him the next Wednesday about being baptized. He grumbled and hemmed and hawed but finally said that I could come over—letting me know it would do no good. Then, I went to the bishop, the elders quorum president, and the Relief Society president and asked them to attend. They all told me they had reservations about confronting this family because they didn’t want to lose them! I told them to simply show up—I would do all the talking and needed them there for support. If they did not come, I was going to do it anyway. They all agreed to come.
When Wednesday came, we all showed up at this family’s door. The father was very surprised that the bishop and others had come (I did not tell him I was bringing back-up!). He invited us in and we all sat down. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I asked if we could start the evening with prayer. He said yes and I asked the elders quorum president to say it. After the prayer, I dove right in. “We are all here to commit you and your family to be baptized next Saturday.” You could hear everyone in the room gasp a little as the gauntlet was thrown before this stubborn man. As the father began his usual excuses, his wife became so nervous she left the room to fuss in the kitchen; however, we all knew she was listening very carefully. The priesthood leaders were rather silent, too, nervous and afraid to offend this man and his family. However, I continued to press ahead, letting this father know that we were not leaving until he agreed to be baptized! At one point he said, “I will not be baptized until I know that it is true. That is what I have been taught . . . that I should know for myself if it is true or not!” I was not about to fall for his ruse and simply confronted him again: “We want you to be baptized and officially join this Church! Besides, if you did not believe the gospel was true, you would not be attending Church every week, paying tithing, and filling callings! As James would have said, I can prove your faith by your works!” I could tell that he was beginning to break a little, and so could the others. Finally, they also jumped in and bore their testimonies of how much they thought of he and his family, and how much they wanted them to join the Church. He continued to battle with us, a little less confident and a little less confrontational. Finally, I threw down the ace I was holding. “Besides, I know your wife and children want to be baptized. You know they want to be baptized. Would you deny them this blessing just to be stubborn?” I could see by the look on his face as he looked towards the kitchen (where his wife had suddenly become very quiet) that I had finally found the key to this stubborn man’s heart. I explained to him that answers come after the trial of faith. I promised that if he and his family were baptized on Saturday the Lord would reward his faith, and he would know within himself that he had done the right thing. Then, once again, I threw down the challenge. “Will you and your family be baptized Saturday?” His shoulders sagged a little as he quietly said, “Yes.”
The entire room seemed to explode with excitement. His wife came running out of the kitchen, tears running down her face as she hugged and thanked her husband. The bishop and elders quorum president were shaking his hand and pounding his back with congratulations. The Relief Society president and this good sister embraced as neither could hold back the tears any longer. As for me? I sat back filled with that quiet, peaceful feeling that comes when you know you have been used as an instrument in God’s hands to bring about something marvelous.
This family was baptized the next Saturday. I believe every member of the ward turned out to see it. About a year later, this wonderful family was sealed in the temple. I had not taught this family one lesson—not one. But I know I had a profound effect upon them and the whole ward as a result of this one evening. I had listened to my mission president and the Spirit of God concerning how to deal with professional investigators. It was not an easy decision, but the rewards that came from being up-front and honest with those we taught, and being firm in committing them to actually listening to the discussions and to being baptized, were beyond my expectations.
Brother Brown: Part I
The most powerful teaching experience I ever had was teaching Brother Brown and his wife (they had two children under the age of 8). We found his name while going through a file of old contacts. He had been taught the discussions before and was obviously a professional investigator. We called and he invited us to come over. When we confronted them about taking the discussions again, they agreed. They also agreed to be baptized, if they found what we taught to be true.
By this time, I had begun to develop a very confident teaching style (as presented in this book). We started right and did all the right things: set the atmosphere, talked to them and chose an appropriate discussion, and convinced them to kneel with us to pray. The Spirit was immediate and powerful. It became clear right away that this was going to be different. The depth of the questions that Brother Brown asked, and the power of the Spirit I felt while answering, was just incredible! Instead of taking an hour or two per discussion we were taking an hour or two per concept. We literally went through every doctrine of the Church with a fine-tooth comb. I did not have to worry about making sure that all of their problems were resolved before we moved on to the next discussion, as they would not permit me to go on until they fully understood and accepted the doctrine we taught.
I spent several months teaching Brother Brown. I had three companions and numerous members of the ward who came with us on splits who became a part of bringing this family into the Church. Brother Brown was a General-Authority-in-waiting; everyone who met him came away with the same impression. This was a powerful, spiritual giant of the Lord. He had been in the Marines. He had gone to West Point and graduated with honors. He had become the youngest Captain ever commissioned in the Marines. After serving two tours in Vietnam, he became disillusioned with the military and decided to leave. He graduated from MIT and was working as an atomic scientist in a secret lab in Pittsburgh. He was about 6 feet 6 inches tall and still had an intimidating military bearing and physique. He was an overwhelming presence to be around. He was far more intelligent than anyone I had ever met: accomplished, spiritual, and physically intimidating. Teaching Brother Brown and his family was an experience I will never forget.
I remember when the second companion I had in this area went to his first discussion (Elder T and I arrived in the mission on the same day). He was physically shaken by the experience. He had never in his life experienced the Spirit so strongly. Members were the same way; they almost fought over the opportunity to go on splits with us to teach Brother Brown and his family. It was the perfect teaching experience, and it came by committing them right up front to take all of the discussions and to prepare to be baptized. This gave us the time and confidence we needed to teach them correctly. I will tell you more about Brother Brown later.
Permit People to Sacrifice
Missionaries often are hesitant to allow people to sacrifice. They assume that the difficulty the sacrifice brings will be too hard, or will drive people away from the Church. As with many things in life, just the opposite is true! Sacrifice creates faith, strengthens testimonies, and prepares people to accept the gospel. What does this mean in day-to-day terms?
- Whenever possible, accept invitations to eat or be with your investigators. Just the fact that you are present with them, your spirit touching theirs, will strengthen them and build their testimonies.
- Accept gifts of money or help when offered. People need to be given the chance to help you in your service because they need the blessings and knowledge that will come as a result. If you deny them the opportunity to give, you will also deny them the blessings they need to progress.
- Always make people pay for the Book of Mormons you give them, unless you were given them for free. First of all, you need whatever money you have. Second, they need to know the book is worth paying for. While I served in Altoona, we were teaching so many people we would sometimes give out a case of Book of Mormons a week. There was no way we could afford to pay for all of those books, so we made sure that they paid at least the cost of the book, which at the time was $1. By making sure people paid for their books, we were able to continue our work. Many times they would offer us more money. We always accepted donations that were offered, knowing they would, in turn, receive needed blessings as a result. We would then either buy more books or turn the money into the bishop.
Leave Your Area Better Than You Found It
As the Boy Scouts do on a camping trip, you should always leave an area better than you found it. This means several things, on several levels.
First, you should have improved the members’ relationship with the missionaries. The next missionaries should not have to work as hard to get splits and help from the members. You should have kept good records (names and phone numbers) of the members who were willing to go on splits.
Second, your teaching pool should be larger, better prepared, and well documented as to what has been taught and what your investigators’ problems are.
Third, your records should be in order and up-to-date. There is nothing worse than coming into an area where there are no records showing who has been taught, who is currently being taught, and possible call-backs and first-time contacts. Keeping some type of logical record of your work immeasurably helps the next missionaries.
Fourth, you should leave an up-to-date map of where you have tracted. It is frustrating to be transferred into an area and have no idea where the previous missionaries had worked. More than once, I have tracted an area worked a few weeks earlier by the previous missionaries. This can be avoided by simply keeping a map on the wall to keep track of where you have worked by marking streets with a highlighter.