Walter Mitty was an anomaly. Once in a while we daydream, but in reality, waking hours are spent in the “now” of our lives. That being said, it is pleasant to spend time in the happy “then” of our past. Here are some thoughts on the then and now of missionary work.
The then in this post was late 1969 through 1971, two years spent as a missionary in the California North Mission. The now is, well, now. Except if you read this sometime after now. In that case now becomes then, and then was 2013 and 2014 in the Virginia Richmond Mission. That’s where we are now.
Then was 44 years ago.
What missionaries teach has not changed. Then and now we teach the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith. Then and now we teach that living prophets can guide our lives. Then and now we teach the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ to compliment the bible.
However, not all things are the same. Here are some things that have changed. Many of them for the better.
They are just better. Apartments are generally pleasant in our mission. Our assignment is to inspect the cars and apartments of Elders and Sisters in our zone. Their apartments are small, but newer and in good condition. They smell good and they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They are sparsely furnished, but furnishings are adequate for sleeping, eating and studying.
Not all missionaries have cars, but here in the states many of them drive a church-owned car. The church keeps their cars in good condition and turn over happens after just a few years. A driving limit of about 1,000 miles each month is the mission rule. There were similar restrictions on the American Motors Ramblers we drove in the 70’s. More than one missionary has expressed satisfaction with the mission cars they drive today.
In 1969 the Missionary Training Center was a crowded building north of the Salt Lake Temple (now the Conference Center). As missionaries we were there only a few days. Meals were served in the basement of the Hotel Utah. Training was limited and concentrated. It seems we had apostles stop by daily and give us instruction.
Now, once again, overcrowding is an issue at the Provo MTC. This despite the 15 Missionary Training Centers operating around the world. We really enjoyed our time at the MTC as we started our mission (see It’s Official When You Get The Tags). Overcrowding is expected with missionary work exploding. Processing tens of thousands of missionaries every year is a pleasant problem, but a problem nonetheless.
The location of the MTC has changed, but more significantly the training at the MTC has also changed. Missionary preparation now centers on Preach My Gospel : A Guide to Missionary Work. Preach My Gospel focuses on the fundamentals of missionary work. Missionaries learn their purpose is to, “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
Methods for teaching investigators are greatly improved over how we taught 44 years ago. Back then we used flannel boards and the “Brother Brown discussions”. Those discussions were memorized, inflexible , and stiff (to say the least). It was difficult to move from memorized words into your own words to bear humble testimony with the spirit.
Today we teach “lessons”. The lessons introduce the restored gospel and explain the commitments new members need to make before baptism. It is important to teach correct principles. Missionaries teach correct principles in their own words. As missionaries teach they express their feelings by the spirit of the Holy Ghost. Prepared investigators understand as the truth is manifest “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).
We have the truth. Since the time of the Savior the problem has been finding those who will listen to the message. Finding techniques have not changed. Missionaries find with faith, talk to everyone, visit with members and former investigators, meet others as they serve and, of course, knock on doors.
The Lord blessed me with success while serving in California. A method that always appealed to me was contacting new move ins. It was so natural to contact someone new to the area and invite them to church. We left a small hard bound book, Meet the Mormons, then told them we would return to retrieve it in about a week. On the return trip we would often make arrangements for a teaching appointment.
A wonderful improvement in missionary work today is the emphasis put on baptism services. Missionaries are strongly encouraged to bring their investigators to baptisms. At these meetings investigators feel the spirit, hear the testimony of newly baptized members, and picture their own baptism. Baptism services are special occasions; investigators feel it. We enjoy attending baptisms in our zone. On occasion we have provided transportation for missionaries who are anxious to travel back to former areas for the baptism of former investigators.
Missionary Instructions and Missionary Blessings
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to some of his apostles. They were fishing on the sea of Tiberius. He repeatedly asked Peter the same question.
“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
Like Peter our instructions are clear, the Lord asks us to serve his children. If we faithfully serve he promises blessings.
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15)
Blessings from a mission started back then. They continue now, 44 years later.