November 24, 2013
While I was thinking of the best way to talk about missionary work I decided telling you about my journey was the best way to do so. There will be a few stories and I hope you can take some lessons or techniques that you can use yourselves.
When I was a beehive (12 or 13) there was a sister missionary in our ward that I became close to. She was a really jolly person. You’d walk away from a conversation with her confident and happy about life. When I was 14 I wanted to know badly if I was supposed to go on a mission. Usually I’m not an indecisive person. Usually I make a decision and stick with it. For some reason I struggled with this particular question. It drove me insane. I prayed and prayed. I kept getting no answer, which turned out to be a “be patient” answer I couldn’t fathom. I remember I had been learning about patriarchal blessings in Sunday school and I thought, ‘This is the perfect solution. I’ll just let them tell me!’
After setting up an appointment I went to the patriarch’s house for my blessing. He asked me if I had any concerns. I didn’t know I could ask for answers to a particular problem. I told him I was really wanting an answer about serving a mission. He probably thought I was crazy thinking about a mission when I was 14. I wouldn’t be able to serve one until I was 21, which was still 7 years away. For those of you doing math that was half my life thus far. We sat in his living room and he began. A few sentences in I started crying as he told me I was of the tribe of Ephraim, whose primary responsibility is to do missionary work. He continued and the Lord blessed me with advice I have reread many times. I’m glad I asked for him to focus on missionary work when I was 14 because it has been the answer to my question, even though I couldn’t understand it at the time.
In ninth grade I was in junior high and I started going to seminary. Our community had a really great relationship with the Mormons. We were blessed to have seminary taught at the high school. I don’t know if you’ve been to Minnesota, but the winters there are brutal. On the walk from the parking lot to the doors you feel like you’re going to get hypothermia and die on the spot. The night janitors would come open the doors for us and we’d all file into two brightly colored Spanish classrooms. Because we met in the high school the older kids would go to class, but the ninth graders would have to carpool to our junior high. For us school started an hour later which gave us time to work on homework, but because it was so early the doors weren’t open to the classrooms at the time. We had to sit in the cafeteria every morning. My friends noticed that no matter how early they got to school we were always there. Finally they asked me why and I told them I went to a bible class early in the morning. This made them sure I was insane. They knew I was serious about church and eventually they knew that if they asked questions I would answer them. They found out I was really open about my beliefs. My whole high school experience revolved around everyone knowing who the Mormon kids were.
My junior year the ward missionaries gave every young man and young woman a Book of Mormon. They gave us the goal of giving it out to someone the next week. One or two were handed out from our class and the next week the missionaries came back with more copies. Amber and I hung around a similar circle of friends in high school. She ended up giving a Book of Mormon in orchestra to one of my best friends. I was at my locker bank where my group of friends hung out between classes and my friend, who had a very exuberant personality, came running over to my locker, waving the Book of Mormon over her head yelling, “Annah, I got a Book of Mormon!” A friend next to me asked me for one too and I handed him the one from my locker. At homeroom my friend from orchestra was reading the Book and was asking me who these “Lamb-a-nites” were and interesting my other friends. From handing out one Book of Mormon Amber and I ended up handing out 13 more that semester.
To me this seemed like I was pushed into an easy way to get bonus points for heaven. However, this situation only happened because of the past preparation. The Mormons in Maple Grove, Minnesota had worked for years to become an important part of the community. The youth had always been strong in their beliefs. Everyone knew the Mormons. We were a peculiar people. Telling my friends early on where I stood led to an ease of gospel sharing later on.
Missionary work is a joy! When you have even the smallest success you get a confirmation from the Holy Ghost about the importance of the work. Whenever I’m sharing my personal beliefs with others a power comes into my life that I know can only come from the Lord. The days become a little brighter and the trials a little easier. The best periods of my life have been when I have been actively sharing the gospel.
The more I talked to my friends about the church, the more I learned to love them. I think the only way you can sincerely want others to have the gospel is to first love them. Jesus loved everyone he healed no matter their station. Whether they were beggar or sinner or rich man he loved them. I realize it is only when I really get to know someone and really get to love them that I feel the urge to tell them of my beliefs. The sons of Mosiah taught among the Lamanites, people who probably wanted them killed and they taught the Lamanites for 14 years. To me the perspective is drastic. Their service would have been ¾ of my life. It was a huge sacrifice. In Mosiah 28:2-3 they gave their reason:
“ perhaps they might bring them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and convince them of the iniquity of their fathers; and that perhaps they might cure them of their towards the Nephites, that they might also be brought to rejoice in the Lord their God, that they might become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land which the Lord their God had given them.
“Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”
They didn’t know the Lamanites and they already had enough love to serve them.
Elder Ballard spoke to us in October about missionary work. He said that there are two reasons we don’t share our beliefs with others. First, fear and second, misunderstanding of what missionary work is. I can say from experience that taking the first step in missionary work is terrifying. I can also say however, that once you take that first step it gets easier.
Growing up in Minnesota our youth leaders were very focused on missionary work. There were always goals of how many people to invite to church and always mutual activities designed specifically for our friends. I remember our ward mission leader came to speak to us about talking to others about the church. I always looked forward to hearing from him in sacrament meeting or classes. He knew his stuff. This one lesson he taught he said a great way for us to learn was to role-play. Of course, with my luck, I was picked to participate. I suddenly wasn’t very happy he had come to teach. He had one person act as a non-member and me to act as a member explaining a principle. He gave us slips of paper and I tried to quickly come up with an answer. I stumbled over my words and most of the short minute didn’t know what I was saying. I didn’t want to do anything like that again.
Elder Ballard was correct in saying fear is what stops us from talking to others. We’re scared we’ll say the wrong thing or we’ll offend them. I certainly was. It takes practice. Now, luckily, I don’t get scared about it. Sometimes I’ll get anxious if it’s a touchy topic, but generally I have one rule; I talk to them the way I would want them to talk to me about their church, not spewing out information or bearing a sacred testimony at an inappropriate time. I’ll ask them what they want to learn about. I make it a dialogue, not a monologue. Elder Ballard said the second reason we don’t share our beliefs is that we don’t know what missionary work it. Missionary work is our conversations, our being examples, giving service, and being a friend. Anything that brings someone a little closer to Christ is missionary work.
President Monson announced in October 2012 that the age of missionaries was changing. When he announced the change my roommates and I all yelled a simultaneous, “What?” It became a real possibility then for me to go on a mission. I decided then I was going on a mission. As I saw that so many people were leaving, I wondered if I was just following the crowd or if I really wanted to go myself. This resulted in creating for myself a rollercoaster of decisions. One day I would say yes and another it was a definite no. Still other days I thought, maybe not yet; later. I read my patriarchal blessing many times trying to find a hidden answer that the patriarch had slipped in without me realizing. After much debating I realized it wasn’t as complicated as I was making it. The reason I hadn’t received a clear answer was because the Lord was trusting me to make the decision myself. The whole time he was patiently saying, “It’s your choice, Annah”. When I officially decided to serve and called my bishop I knew that I had made the right choice.
The next weeks I was reassured over and over that I needed to go. I finished the paperwork in 2 ½ weeks and I started to reread the Book of Mormon and Preach My Gospel. My bishop had been notified a couple weeks later that the call had been made. It just needed to be mailed to me. I finished the Book of Mormon and knew I was going to get my call that day. I didn’t. I then finished the Preach My Gospel. For sure it would come, now that I was truly prepared. It didn’t. That Saturday we went hiking. We drove home and, as I was mad with the mailbox, I didn’t check for my call. My mom checked before coming inside and I heard, “Sister Despain.” I ran to her and everyone ran to the living room to see me tear open the envelope. [Cross fingers] South America. South America. I began reading:
“Dear Sister Despain:
“You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Utah Salt Lake City West Mission.”
I stopped. Are you kidding me? I was born in Salt Lake City and all our family, including my sister in Bountiful, is there. That was the one place in the world I had ruled out. However, reading it, I felt that Salt Lake was where I was needed. Over the next month I have been reassured so many times. People tell me of all the people they know in Salt Lake and giving my lots of people to look out for. I have family inside and 5 minutes from my mission. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I’m excited to serve.
I have a testimony of this gospel. I know that prayer works. I found out for myself that God listens from my journey to becoming a missionary and countless other times my prayers have been answered. I know that the temple is a house of God. There is peace in the temple that I feel every time I visit. I also know that missionary work is important. I have felt a power whenever I have shared the truth of the gospel. You can't help knowing that what you are doing is good. I know God lives, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.