If you work at something for a year and a half you should learn something. If you work at something for a year and a half you should accomplish something. We feel good about what we have learned and accomplished on our mission.
And so, in keeping with traditions made popular by late night television, here is our top ten list — The Top Ten Things We Learned on Our Mission.
#10. Sister Ware can really snap her fingers
Every mission seems to have a signature move. On my first mission it was tossing a quarter into the air with a flat spin, kicking it back into the air with the side of your shoe, and catching it. If you were good you caught it in your shirt pocket. I know that sounds weird, but work up the mental image. You see a group of missionaries, standing in the foyer of the church, one leg at an awkward angle to the side, and quarters flying in all directions. Scary. On this mission some of the missionaries and ward members have their own signature move. They greet each other with a loud finger snap. Sister Ware is a really good finger snapper.
As my one and only missionary companion I learned Sister Ware was good at all kinds of things. One of them was teaching. Her ability to teach was greatly enhanced because she cared about our students. We learned, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It was easy to care about our good friends in Virginia.
Sister Ware showed she cared using her skills as a conversationalist. Those we worked with, especially the young people, loved to visit with her. She showed she cared in the time and interest she gave to others. Everyone needs friends and her ability to make friends through listening and responding was as good as her finger snapping.
#9. We are laden with sheaves
“Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come . . . Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back . . .” (D&C 31:3,5).
Symbols are plentiful when you talk about burdens on your back. Initial impressions suggest you are burdened with a load, something difficult. That is not the case with sheaves. If you are harvesting grain through cutting your harvest by hand, and carrying those bound sheaves to the thresher, you carry on your back the blessing of food. When you are laden with sheaves you are laden with blessings.
We loved our mission. It was work, but not really hard work. We never felt pressure to achieve, and we never felt excessive demands on our time. That being said, there was always something to do. There were institute classes on almost every weekday and YSA events every weekend. There was cooking, inspecting, and transporting. Mostly there were people who needed attention. We didn’t have to look far to find an investigator, new member, missionary or ward member that needed some personal attention. We especially enjoyed paying attention to others.
The reception of blessings is not the proper motivation for working and serving the Lord. We serve because we follow the admonition to “serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2). We serve because we love the Lord—and yet blessings come to us. We found blessings in everything – institute lessons went well, food we cooked tasted good, we were never lost while driving, and we were never sick.
Blessings came to our family as well. We left with six grandsons back home. They are all bright, talented and good, and they really make us happy. With our children we prayed for more grandchildren, boys or girls (but girls would be nice). Our prayers were answered with two new granddaughters. Perhaps more importantly, God has blessed our family with the blessings of his gospel and all of our children are taking advantage of activity in the church and the blessings of the temple.
We love these words from Elder Russell M. Nelson. “”Keeping divine commandments brings blessings, every time! Breaking divine commandments brings a loss of blessings, every time!” (General Conference, April 2014)
#8. It’s better when you sing
Missionaries, members of the Charlottesville Young Single Adult Ward, and students in our institute classes all loved to sing. Everyone seemed to sing well and we sang frequently. The Lord loves singing. He said, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12)
Interestingly, in Virginia, the state honored with the capital of the confederacy, a favorite church hymn seemed to be The Battle Hymn of the Republic. While singing this hymn in church we sometimes stand(?). It was sometimes sung at baptisms (?). Julia Ward Howe wrote this Yankee song. She was an active leader in anti-slavery politics and strong supporter of the Union. Perhaps Union troops fighting in Virginia sang the song so often it just caught on.
#7. God loves all his children
It was our privilege to work with all kinds of people and we learned to better understand that God loves all his children. God blesses all his children, including non-christians, with his spirit as they love and serve others. (Mosiah 18:10)
Many of the young people we know are truly blessed. Many are intelligent students working on a degree at an excellent university, supported by loving family members, and firm in their testimony of the gospel. For them the future looks bright. Others we know found themselves on the other side of the spectrum. They faced difficulties. Some lived with little family support. Some had been homeless. Some struggled with addictions.
We came to appreciate a term used by Neal A. Maxwell. He said that our Father knows us intimately from our pre-mortal life. From that knowledge he has developed a “customized curriculum” (see Insights from My Life) for each of us. The curriculum for some of our Virginia friends appeared very difficult. We wanted to help, but often felt helpless. We found we could give them attention, let them know we cared, and pray for them. We saw blessings come into their lives, especially as they lived the principles of the restored gospel.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland gave a conference talk, “Are We Not All Beggars?”, about those with disadvantages. In the talk he points out that “blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs” (D&C 56:18). We try our best to benefit others and look forward to the time the Lord will make all things right.
#6. We love missionary name tags
You know what I am talking about. Those black name tags that have your name, Elder ____, or Sister ____, followed by the name of the church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. We loved putting on these tags in the morning. It meant we represented the restored gospel of Jesus Christ through his church. It meant we were called by a prophet. It meant our message was the most important message on the earth today. It meant we were missionaries.
It was also great fun to wear the tag. For example, in a store at the mall someone might ask you where to find women’s shoes. You could answer, “I’m sorry, I don’t know, but I can tell you about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Usually the reply brought another glance at the name tag and the response, “Oh . . . , never mind”. Sometimes you would notice a person trying to read your tag. If you turned just a little, without making eye contact, they could get a better look. Then, with eye contact, you could tell them why you wear the tag, who you are, and start-up a conversation. Usually we found we could give them a pass along card, one of those business cards with information about church websites, our name and number. Missionary tags are the best.
#5 Ground Hogs, marmots and whistle-pigs are all related
Sister Ware was slightly obsessed with ground hogs. While driving down the road she would always be on the lookout for these large, furry rodents. I suggested some were stumps or distant, wind-blown, paper bags. She reminded me to keep my eyes on the road. One time, while driving alone, she claims she saw an especially ferocious looking ground hog standing at the side of the road.
We learned ground hogs belong to a larger group of ground squirrels known as marmots. They are also known as woodchucks, and land-beavers. Some of the locals call them whistle-pigs because they can warn of danger with a standing whistle.
#4 Follow the prophet
All of us are attempting to understand ourselves and our role in the universe. The answers are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith and through his prophets today.
Many of those we met on our mission seem to feel the understanding they are seeking is found in their own moral relativism. If you think something is right it is. They use a secular approach which emphasizes freedom without limits, tolerance beyond established morality, and equality where everyone is the same. Secular relativism is especially promoted in sexual matters and issues involving the central role of the family, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women.
The Lord teaches differently when he tells us, “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9), and “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on this subject in General Conference.
“Some obey selectively because they cannot perceive all the reasons for a commandment, just as children do not always understand the reasons for their parents’ counsel and rules. But we always know the reason we follow the prophets, for this is the Church of Jesus Christ, and it is the Savior who directs His prophets in all dispensations.” (General Conference, April 2014)
We believe great blessings come from following the prophet. When we follow the prophet the Lord blesses us with personal confirmation through the Holy Ghost that we are correct.
#3 Look Outward, Not Inward
When Elder David A. Bednar spoke at a Virginia Richmond Mission Conference, he taught something really important, “Always look outward, not inward.” It is easy to look inward and focus on ourselves for good or ill. It might be seeking praise for a well-taught lesson, high numbers on a missionary report, or positioning ourselves for advancements or leadership positions. It might even be excessive self-criticism, fear caused by the constant consideration of our inadequacies, or over-concern of how we will look to others. These are all forms of self-centeredness.
Instead, we must look outward. Looking outward means focusing on our students, investigators, family, and friends. We listen to their questions or comments rather than losing ourselves in thoughts of what we will say or do next. We consider their needs or fears and not our own and how we can help them prepare for eternal life. We just GET OUT OF THE WAY and trust the Spirit to guide us.
President Hinckley so wisely explained, “If we want joy in our hearts, if we want the Spirit of the Lord in our lives, let us forget ourselves and reach out. Let us put in the background our own personal selfish interests and reach out in service to others.” (July 2006 New Era)
#2 Southerners have the best sayings
“She’s as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.”
When a pig dies, presumably in a sty outside, the sun dries out its skin. This effect pulls the pig’s lips back to reveal a toothy “grin,” making it look happy even though it’s dead. This phrase describes a person who’s blissfully ignorant of reality. We found this was a seldom heard, but very descriptive southern saying.
We anticipated hearing “y’all” plenty and we were not disappointed. However, most southern sayings we heard centered around blessings. “Have a blessed day” comes to mind as the most common, not the familiar “have a good day”, but have a “blessed day.” Sometimes people would use the phrase after looking at our name tags. We obviously label ourselves as religious. It is really a pleasant comment.
Another common phrase is “bless her heart”. “Bless his/her heart”, isn’t as pleasant as “have a blessed day”. It is a polite sounding phrase given with a passive-aggressive gist. You might hear, “Did you see what she was wearing? Bless her heart.” Or perhaps, “His comments were completely inappropriate. Bless his heart.”
So the next time some guy cuts you off in traffic you can say, “Y’all have a blessed day . . . bless your heart.”
#1 We need to work toward the next covenant
An emphasis on our mission is helping everyone prepare for their next covenant. For a non-member the next covenant is baptism. For a member the next covenant might be temple attendance. For most of us the next covenant is taking the sacrament. We can all look forward to our next covenant.
The Savior promises great blessings to men and women who keep his commandments and make covenants.
And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. (D&C 84:37-39)
Helping others work toward their next covenant has been a great blessing while on our mission. We hope to continue emphasizing covenants in our lives and the lives of others.
Elder and Sister Ware