President's Pen 4-4-16 (Effective Exchanges)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our 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. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! We begin with the “End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

Wasn't General Conference amazing!  How blessed we are to have living prophets and apostles guide and direct us.  In particular, I appreciated Elder Bednar's talk on how we maintain a remission of our sins.  This is the message we teach and the hope we extend to people through the merits of the Savior Jesus Christ.  How grateful we are for the power of godliness and for the knowledge that through the ordinances of baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the ongoing participation of the sacrament we can be clean and prepared to meet God.  Help those that have been baptized in other faiths come to understand that baptism must be done by water and the Spirit, through the proper authority of God, to help them qualify to enter God's kingdom.  As soon as this talk is made available to print, I suggest you study it and come to know how important Elder Bednar's teaching is to us as missionaries.  

When you think of companionship exchanges, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  Whatever the answer might be, I hope to create a culture where we view exchanges as opportunities to learn, uplift, share ideas, improve, and be better off than when the exchange began.  

From the Missionary Handbook we are taught what the ideal exchange should look like.  While elders are specifically mentioned, the same process should apply to the sisters as well.  How often should we exchange?  "At least once every transfer cycle, a district leader (STL) works with each elder in his district and zone leaders work with district leaders in their zone."  What is the purpose of these exchanges? "Companion exchanges are conducted by leaders to train missionaries."  What should take place during the exchange?  "During the companion exchange, the leader should take part in as many phases of missionary work as possible, including finding, teaching, companionship study, language study (as appropriate), and daily planning. He should review and discuss the missionary’s area book and daily planner."  What should you expect from the leader?  "The leader teaches by example. In a spirit of love, he gives the missionary specific, direct, constructive feedback on what he does well and how he can improve. He helps the missionary understand and apply principles from Preach My Gospel, and he gives leadership training."  What should the outcome of the exchange be?  "At the end of the exchange he reviews with the missionary what has happened and what has been learned during the exchange. He helps the missionary set goals and make plans."  How is the exchange reported?  "The leader reports on the exchange in his weekly letter to the mission president."  

There is great wisdom in the reason why we exchange, what we are asked to accomplish, and how we are to go about them.  Do your exchanges look and reflect the guidance given above?  May I suggest some practical things you should consider as you prepare for your next exchange and I why you should look forward to them…

The Prophet Joseph Smith established a pattern of seeking truth and understanding that led to not only all restored truths, but a model for us to consider as we seek to continuously improve.  He was always asking questions that lead to higher light and knowledge.  His inquisitive nature is something that I hope you desire for yourself.  How does this relate to companionship exchanges?  If I were you I'd want to learn and know everything good that someone with a different background, experience, and perspective could share.  Here are a few examples…

 

  • Tell me about your family, why did you choose to serve a mission, what is your best experience so far, what has tried your faith the most, what are some of the personal goals you're working on?
  • How do you keep your mind on the work, keep your focus on our purpose, give a consistent effort every day, gain a vision and effort to baptize?
  • I know I need to be exactly obedient, what did you do to come to understand these principles and how do you do it?
  • How do you like to do your scripture study, PMG study, what have you learned recently that you could share with me?
  • Can you show me how you set goals and plan?  I follow the 13 steps in PMG, but what helps you focus on helping people progress?  Can you show me how you use your planner?
  • We are asked to do a lot, update the area book, progress reports, communicate with ward/branch leadership, how do you prioritize and make time for all of this?
  • I'm working on my lesson planning, can you show me some of yours and how you think about the investigator as you plan?  I'm trying to teach more simply, ask more inspired questions, listen better, what do you do?
  • Can you share with me how you teach the Restoration, how you commit people to baptism, how you set baptismal dates, and how you follow up?
  • I don't teach a lot of lessons 2-5, can you show me how you teach them and what you like to do?
  • Can you share with me some of the most difficult objections or questions you are asked and how you answer them? What do you do to combat anti-Mormon messages from the web, family, or friends?
  • Can you tell me how you're working with your members and how you get them to come with you for member "friend" lessons?
  • What have been your best finding approaches, how do you OYM, how do you choose where to find?
  • How do you get people to keep commitments of reading, praying, coming to church?  What has been your best follow up approach and how often do you do it?  
  • What's your favorite exercise, thing to do on pday, how do you keep the apartment clean, get along well with your companion?
  • Will you share your testimony with me, how did you come to know these things are true?

Imagine what you'd learn about being a missionary, how to improve, and come to appreciate the perspective of someone else if you just start asking questions.  The world would define this process as best practice seeking, or the process of understanding what works best so you can personally apply it in your own efforts.  I like to think of an exchange as an opportunity to have a revelatory experience.  Think about how this kind of information, will lead to inspiration, and then personal revelation to help you improve in your efforts.  I vividly recall in my mission seeing someone teach differently, or explain something in such a way I'd never heard it, or apply a skill I hadn't thought of, or make a bold invitation that I would then use.  I am still grateful for the examples of some of these great companions that helped me learn and grow.

What I do find at times is that the companionship exchange is just something we have to do, sometimes it allows me to hang out with someone else for the day, and we check it off the list and move on.  In some cases it is our pride that gets in the way of asking these kinds of questions as we might appear less effective or not as capable as our peers.  We might also fall into the trap of comparison and then start to wallow in self pity (anti responsibility list) and instead of growing we shrink.  We might also think we know all there is to know and not ask for more insight.  Sorry, but these excuses are just weak (not you, the behavior :). Every missionary in the Great Texas Houston South Mission has a perspective that is unique and one that we can benefit from.  

The exchange shouldn't be just about the leader expounding wisdom, but it should be mutually beneficial.  Both should be edified and uplifted.  An effective exchange has purpose, is planned in advance, is effective, and seeks better outcomes for all involved.  The exchange should be as beneficial for both sets of missionaries involved, this means planning needs to be done in advance for both areas.   Exchanges should take place in the early afternoon so a full day of effort can be seen and understood.  As the MHB states, the exchanges should involve all phases of missionary work as possible, including finding, teaching, companionship study, language study (as appropriate), and daily planning.

I am asking all of you to step up your game when it comes to why and how we companionship exchange.  I'm calling on all leaders to model the right approach and overcome habits or past behaviors related to exchanges that need to go.  I have attached the exchange checklist I ask our leaders to follow, please hold yourself and the leadership accountable to these standards.  Make the exchange about growth, improvement, and a desire to invite all to come unto Christ.  Like all things in life, what we put into an effort is what we will receive in return.  The principles of reaping what we sow are always on display.  Thanks for your goodness and let's apply good principles that help us become more like the Savior as we labor in His vineyard with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.  We love you!

Mission Update

We are off to a good start for the month and many more souls will come unto Christ in the weeks to come.  With transfers ahead, don't lose your momentum, stay focused on your efforts, keep finding, inviting, teaching, and helping all come to know the Savior.  I have included the mission calendar for April and May (attached).  Keep up the great work, we love you!

President Hall