Slow week

ST Martin July 19 15

This week was a rather slow week for us—lots of studying. Terri had a few important medical issues to resolve, and I was being trained and reading up about my new assignment with the mission vehicles.

Last week we met with Pres. Herrington, and next week we get two new missionaries into St Martin (they are re-opening the 4th apartment that they closed for a short time), so we will be busy next week.

At District Meeting I shared the following information:

The importance of planning and being calm under pressure

This week we had a visit from the new mission President. In spite of all the different things that went wrong—missing plane flights, not being able to call leadership, etc.—he remained calm and sought to accomplish good while he was here.

Why was he able to stay calm?

What do you do when your planning goes wrong?

Do you think Jesus was ever ‘rushed,’ or ‘out of control,’ or gave up when things went wrong?

Part of the appeal of Jesus, and the Brethren that have been called to lead us, is their example of serenity and calm amidst the storms of life.

During the storm on the Sea of Galilee the apostles were upset and frantic…but Jesus was calm and serene. Why?

Both Jesus and the Brethren can be calm in the storm because they do two things:

  1. They do long term planning, and take into account problems that may occur.
  1. When problems do arise, they have faith that God will provide a way around the problems.

When Nephi traveled back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates, is a great example of this:

They had a plan (they would try to convince Laban to give them the plates)

They had a back-up plan (they would try to buy the plates from Laban)

When everything went wrong, Nephi still went forward, believing that God would provide a way.

You can do the same:


Have a back-up plan

Have faith God will provide a way when all else fails.

Developing Into Men

In a way, this chapter is written as much to the priesthood leaders as it is to the missionaries. Priesthood leaders have so much influence and power over the development of those in their charge that they must learn to use that influence wisely. Although most missionaries are teenagers, and are seen as “just boys,” they must be treated as men. People will live up to what you expect of them. If you treat them as boys, they will continue to act like boys. If you treat them as men, I promise you, they will begin to act like men.

Do not create unnecessary rules

President Pinnock was a master at teaching boys to become men. He gave us strict rules about important things but always gave us the freedom to choose about other things. It wasn’t until I was transferred to the Nauvoo mission that I learned what a truly great teacher and leader President Pinnock was. Missionaries from five or six missions had been sent to Nauvoo to work at the Visitors’ Center during the summer season. Thus, I had the opportunity to hear how other missions were being run. I was surprised to learn that the rules and conditions placed upon the missionaries by their mission presidents varied greatly from one mission to another. Many mission presidents placed upon their missionaries unrealistic rules and expectations that demoralized them and ended up detracting from the work. Here are just a few examples:

All missionaries were to wear dark blue. Blue suits with blue ties and black socks and shoes. No other color was permitted in the entire mission. Not even different ties were permitted! If elders came out with brown suits, or black suits, or pin-striped suits, they had to send them back and find dark blue suits. (I’ve seen the Prophet of the Lord wear something other than a blue suit, and even a colorful tie!)

No matter how hot it got, the missionaries were not permitted to take off their suit coats. Even in the middle of summer, and this was a mission in a southern state, they had to wear their full suit with jacket whenever they were out of their apartments. (I’ve seen the Prophet of the Lord take off his jacket during the priesthood session of General Conference when it was too hot!)

The missionaries could not listen to any kind of music—none—not even uplifting music or the Tabernacle Choir.

The missionaries were not permitted to study while eating.

Missionaries were not allowed to sleep in on P-day, and instead of getting a full day off (until 6:00 p.m.) they had to work.

They were not allowed to play basketball or other sports with the other missionaries in their district.

Every missionary had to comb his hair in exactly the same way.

Missionaries could call home just once a year, and then for only 15 minutes.

No missionary could have the color yellow in his tie.

The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. They are simply arbitrary rules drawn up by mission presidents. I’m sure they seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Perhaps the mission president wanted to show how “unified” they were by all wearing the same color suit. Perhaps one was having a problem with missionaries listening to inappropriate music, so he decided to ban all music. Some, such as everyone wearing the same hair style, I can’t come up with a reason for their creation. But this I am sure of: No matter how innocent and pure the intent, the effect of these rules can be devastating within a mission.

Almost all young men have self-esteem problems. This lack of self-confidence makes them feel inadequate, awkward, and unworthy to receive blessings from the Lord. Any problem that arises, any minor sin or infraction, will lead these young men to feel unworthy of God’s love and blessings and therefore unworthy of the natural success and joy that should come with serving the Lord. By creating rules and regulations that are unnecessary, you place undue burdens upon the shoulders of these young men. No one is perfect. No one can live every day without making a few mistakes, sleeping in late, forgetting an appointment, etc. By placing these additional rules upon the missionaries, no matter how well intentioned, you will end up causing unnecessary problems.

For through the law is the knowledge of sin. Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. (Romans 3:20; 4:15)

What is the final result of these innocent rules? The result is that missionaries will break them. Not because they are willful, but because they are weak, because they are human. Then, when they kneel before their Heavenly Father at night to ask for His help and guidance, they are hindered from obtaining what they seek. For as they begin to ask of God, they remember: “I broke a mission rule today, therefore I am unworthy to ask God for a blessing,” and they are stopped from doing the most important thing they can do while on their mission: communicate with their God. I testify to you that this is exactly what happens and how it happens.

But what about those who break the mission rules? How does a mission president control problems that occur within his mission? He does what President Pinnock did—handles it on a case-by-case basis. It is wrong to punish every missionary for the actions of a few. It is wrong to place additional rules upon missionaries because of their youth. What do I mean? It’s simple. Do unto others what you would have them do to you. Would you ask an adult priesthood holder living within your mission to obey this rule? Would you be willing to live this rule yourself? I cannot imagine priesthood leaders going to the elders quorum president and asking him to stop listening to music, or going to the Relief Society president and telling her she cannot read her scriptures while she eats. Mission presidents would not think to place on the senior missionaries, or any adult for that matter, all too many of the rules they place on the young missionaries. Remember, if you want these missionaries to act as adults, you must treat them as adults!

We have been taught this lesson so many times and yet it never seems to stick: teach people what to do and then let them govern themselves!

When asked how he governed so many people, the Prophet Joseph Smith answered, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”  (George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, p. 529)

This is simple in theory but much more difficult in practice. In practice, it means that we have to trust people to behave appropriately. We have to trust these young missionaries to act like adults. We have to trust God that He will protect them and guide them when we cannot. Does anyone really believe that someone who is breaking the mission rules will suddenly reform because he has more rules to follow? Does anyone truly believe that by adding more rules all of their problems with missionaries will be solved? It is the oldest story of all: The difference between a shepherd and a sheepherder.

A shepherd leads his flock. A sheepherder drives his flock. A leader who adds more rules and burdens upon the backs of missionaries is simply using those rules as a stick in an effort to drive the missionaries the direction he wants them to go. A real leader teaches, uplifts, and motivates his missionaries to greater and greater obedience. He does not need a stick to drive them, he uses his love, knowledge, and testimony to teach them correct principles, and, when done correctly, they willingly follow him.

Do not be the sheepherder who drives his sheep only to scatter them further. Be like the good shepherd whom the flock loves and respects so much they willingly follow.

Permit them to make the tough decisions

President Pinnock never made a decision or did anything else that took responsibility away from the missionary. Again, he treated us as adults. Only in the case of serious problems, such as moral transgression, would he get personally involved. Here are a couple of examples of how he dealt with problems that arose:

  1. Going to court.

While working in and around Philadelphia we ran into the police quite often. Many of the townships had laws against soliciting, especially at night. We were stopped by the police many times and told not to come back to an area. We did our best to be considerate of people, but the work had to go on. So, one day it finally happened. We were stopped by the police, given a citation, and commanded to stop all proselyting in the area under penalty of jail. We were told to come to court to defend ourselves at a certain place and time. Not knowing what to do, we called President Pinnock. We called, feeling scared and unsure of ourselves (whether we had done something wrong or not) and unsure of what President Pinnock would say. Would he be mad at us? His response was surprising, uplifting, and literally changed our lives. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, he assured us that we had done nothing wrong. We had been doing our duty, just as we were supposed to. Second of all, he placed the burden back on our shoulders by telling us that we would have to go to court ourselves and take care of the problem. And lastly, he gave us confidence by assuring us that we could do this, that he trusted us to do the right thing, and that he knew it would turn out all right. He finished by asking us to report back what happened and how it went.

We had gone from timid young missionaries, afraid we had done something wrong, afraid we would get yelled at, afraid even to call our mission president, to becoming confident servants of God. We took upon ourselves the responsibility for our actions; taking actions to solve our own problems and suddenly having the confidence that we would prevail. And we did prevail! After talking with President Pinnock, we prayed and then sat down to discuss what we should do to resolve the situation in which we found ourselves. We decided that the first thing we needed to do was to find a copy of the specific law or ordinance with which we were charged and read it. We went down to the courthouse and obtained a copy of the law. Upon reading it, we discovered that the law with which we were charged was for soliciting—for selling things door to door. But we weren’t selling anything! A few days later my companion and I appeared in court. The judge was on the bench and the police officer who gave us the summons was also there. After introducing the case, the judge looked at us and asked us what we had to say. I stood and told him that the ordinance with which we were charged had to do with selling goods, and that we had not sold anything, nor had we ever sold things door-to-door. We were simply talking to people about our Church. The judge then turned to the police officer and asked him if he had anything to say. He looked sheepish and a little embarrassed as he stood and said, “No, your honor.” The judge admonished us to behave and not cause problems, and then dismissed the case! As you can imagine, we floated out of that courtroom. We felt so good, so excited, and so wonderful about the whole experience! From that day forward, we became more self-confident, more willing to solve our own problems, more willing to take on greater responsibility, more like real men. And it was all because our mission president had trusted us and shown confidence in us.

  1. Casting out Satan.

I was serving in Scranton, Pennsylvania as a zone leader. We had been having problems with Satan. I don’t mean depression and sin, I mean real confrontations with Satan! Both my companion and I had been physically attacked by evil demons. We even had a coven of witches seeking to harm us and thwart the work we were doing. Once again, we felt like we were out of our league. So we called President Pinnock—with similar results. He listened to the situation, stated he was confident we could handle things ourselves, and then gave us “back-up” in case what we did failed. He told us that if we could not rid the area of evil spirits, he would call an Apostle of the Lord to do it! Wow! Once again, we were lifted up by our wonderful mission president, who gave us confidence to solve our own problems and comfort to know that if we made mistakes, or failed in what we decided to do, we would not be condemned for trying. Further, we would be sent help if needed. I cannot explain how powerful a lesson this was to learn—how much this affected my life and the lives of my companions. We were set on a path of responsibility and self-confidence that continues even today. How easy it would have been for him to say, “I’ll take care of it,” which would have really meant, “You are too young and stupid to work this out for yourself. I will do it for you so you don’t screw it up.” Instead of treating us like children (as our parents may have treated us), he treated us like men—like equals. I will be forever grateful to him for it.

Real men get things done

One of the frustrations you learn in life is that people do not do what they say they will. They promise you everything and, if you believe them, you end up with nothing. The Savior understood this weakness in men. He talked about two sons—one who promised to do what his father wanted and the other who didn’t. But one son actually did what his father wanted. One son let his actions speak louder than words.[i] The Savior talked about a foolish man who “talked” about building a tower but failed to plan properly and was laughed at when he could not finish the project that became a white elephant to those who lived in the neighborhood.[ii] The Savior understood that real men, men of God, do what they say they will. They do not promise to do something without first thinking it through and planning it in their minds, so they are confident they will be able to live up to their word.

Real men are simple in speech. They do not need flowery words to convince people of the truth. They say things simply and directly and then let their actions and the truth of their words stand for themselves.[iii]

Real men are results oriented—they don’t care about the pomp and fanfare that comes with life; they care about results. They care about actually getting things done. As President Pinnock used to say:

Always remember that a “results-oriented” person is the one who gets the job done. Concentrate on results, results, results.

Real men don’t just talk, they do. Remember the famous saying of the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball: “Just do it!” He, too, understood this simple principle. Enough meetings. Enough planning. Enough talking. Now, just do it!

Continuing on his teachings about serving and doing what needs to be done to carry the work forward, President Pinnock often talked about the dedication we need to have in the service of God:

Total dedication becomes one of the great steps an individual takes in his attempt to serve the Savior. Periodically we hear that someone “does the right thing for the wrong reason . . .” and that might be true. But never forget it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do the right thing at all.

To the Savior, few things were more offensive than those who talked but did nothing. Even if you end up making a mistake, or just foul things up, you will be looked upon in a much better light than those who do nothing. At least by acting and making mistakes, we are learning that if we do not act, for better or worse, nothing will happen at all!

The worst-case scenario

What happens if you find yourself with a mission president you do not like or cannot get along with? Perhaps one who seems to create arbitrary rules that you find hard to accept and live? What do you do? The answer is to be obedient to the best of your ability. God will always bless obedience, even if it seems to make little sense at the time. Remember what happened to Adam after leaving the Garden of Eden? He was commanded to sacrifice animals to God but was not told why. I don’t know about you, but that would have frustrated me to no end! I would want to know why something was being done before I would spend the time and effort to do it! But Adam, in spite of whatever reservations he may have had as to why he was being asked to do this thing, was obedient. He trusted God and believed that if God asked him to do something there must be a good reason for it! So, he obeyed. It was only later that the importance of what he had been asked to do was revealed to him.

And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence. And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:4–8)

As a reward for Adam’s obedience, both he and Eve received a witness of the truth, and a promise that they would live again in God’s presence.

And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.

And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. (Moses 5:9–12)

As difficult as it sometimes is to obey the directions given us by those placed in authority over us, we must learn to obey. When you get into a position of leadership, remember what you learned and how you felt when others might have used unrighteous dominion and make sure not to repeat it! Learning to follow and obey is an important part of learning how to become a good leader. If you do not know what it takes to be a good follower, you will never learn what it takes to be a good leader. So, after all is said and done, learn to obey. Put your ego and your poor attitude in your pocket and humble yourself! Besides, it will be good medicine for your soul.

[i] Matthew 21:28–31

[ii] Luke 14:28–30

[iii] Matthew 5:33–37


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1 Response to Slow week

  1. Joy McMullin says:

    What a wonderful support you are for these young missionaries!
    I am sure that your mission president would like to clone you so that every zone had a couple like you to teach and guide the missionaries.

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