President's Pen 7-25-16 (Problem Solving)

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

Beloved Elders & Sisters,

We love you!  Thank you for braving the hot and humid Houston summer.  This is real missionary work for real missionaries! The image of you riding your bikes, walking the streets, and doing all you can to help all come unto Christ brings a smile to my face.  Please drink as much water as you can.  Get a good tan farmers tan and love this work!!!

I’m starting you off today with a problem to solve… How can you throw a ball as hard as you can and have it come back to you, even if it doesn't bounce off anything? There is nothing attached to it, and no one else catches or throws it back to you.

See if you can solve this problem… Think creatively, consider all soltuions.  I’ll give you the answer somewhere in my email, but don’t’ look for it at the bottom, some of you might be tempted to scroll right to it. :)

The Lord has blessed you with the ability to study things out in your mind (D&C 9:8) and to solve problems for yourself.  Your experience as a missionary is full of problem solving situations, and unlike the problem above, there can be multiple solutions to the problems you face.   Your life ahead will be full of challenges to solve and your mission experience is great training ground for the future. 

As a missionary you are asked to be solution oriented and to develop problem solving skills that help men and women come to an understanding of light and truth.  Many missionaries might be tempted to look for “silver bullet” answers or rush to google and type in, “How can I get my investigator to come to church?”, “How can I find?”, or “How can I get members to be more engaged?”.  Yes, it would be awesome if we could just go to LDS.org and find the sure fire answers there waiting for us, but the Lord expects us to consider the specific needs for our areas, members, and each individual as we find answers that will work for them.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is always the answer, but how do you help others find it?

Several years ago I was invited by my next door neighbor to climb the Grand Teton.  He is an expert mountaineer and has climbed to the peaks of some of the highest mountains in the world.  I am not a climber, I’m slightly terrified of heights, but against my better judgement, I reluctantly agreed to join him.  I prefer life over death and like to keep my feet on solid ground, but he told me we’d be safe, that old ladies do this kind of stuff (appealed to my prideful manliness), and so off we went.  We arrived at the foot of the mountain early in the evening and then hiked through the night until we got to the lower saddle to rest.  Early the next morning we awoke to a beautiful clear day and made our way to the north face of the Grand as this route, according to my guide, was the best path for rookies like me. 

As we began the ascent, and as he surveyed what lay in front of us, he said we’d have to turn back and go another way.  There was too much snow and ice (early September) and without crampons we’d slip and slide to our death.  I didn’t argue with the change in plans and followed him to our next possible route.  Unfortunately, this route didn’t look right either so he then took us to a third, and yet again it didn’t look right, and then he said, we’re going to have to go up through a route called “Wall Street”.  What he then described terrified me… He said this would be a large upward trending ledge on the south face of the mountain and the gateway to the Upper Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton. He said this would be a spacious looking ledge that would gradually taper away to nothing, at which point there would be a very airy step (1700 feet of free fall – pic attached) across the Exum gap where we would gain access to the next part of the climb.  Ay caramba, my life flashed before my eyes, I was going to die. 

 To be honest, I really wanted to turn around and run down the mountain at that point.  This was not what I had signed up for and had he given me an out I would have gladly taken it.  He wouldn’t let me turn back though, he helped resolve my concerns, answered my questions, and asked me to trust him; he’d take care of me and so I followed him hoping that I’d see the family again. 

To be brief, we climbed through the “Eye of the Needle”, and then steadily made our way until we arrived to the dreaded “Wall Street” ledge, where he then hooked the two of us together with a short rope.  He told me that I would anchor him and that he would then anchor me.  The truth is if he fell, I fell, and if I fell, he would fall, so it was getting very real and I wondered how I had gotten to this point.  I was not only beyond my comfort zone, but panic was setting in. 

With no fear, he made his way up wall street, crossed the gap like the pro he is, and then waited for me on the other side.  May I share with you at this point the power of prayer. :) I clung to the rock walls like those that cling to the iron rod as he slowly coached me to the gap.  The airy step is something I will never forget as there was nothing below me but certain death.  He carefully directed me on where to put my feet and hands, and then helped me to safety. 

Crossing that gap was pure terror and elation at the same time.  There were only feelings of relief and gratitude as I made it safely across!  We weren’t even at the top of the climb yet, but this victory gave me enough courage to keep pressing up the Golden Stairs and finally to the top of the Grand Teton.  The view from the top is spectacular and my guide had become my hero, we made it alive!  I won’t’ tell you how we got down, I’ll save that for another email. :)

As I look back at this experience, what impressed me most about my guide was that he continually looked for the route that would allow us to find the summit.  He challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of, but encouraged me, lead me, and even pulled me in some cases until we arrived at the top.  I had to do my part, he couldn’t carry me, but he gave me enough guidance until I found my way.  He wouldn’t let me quit, found solutions to every obstacle, and then celebrated with me at the top of the mountain.  To this day I can’t drive by the Grand Teton’s without my heart beginning to race!

I think you can relate to how my experience ties into what you do each day… You all understand that this is your calling; to invite and help people come unto Christ and then guide them to make some of the most difficult climbs of their lives.  For many you will have to solve problems regarding the traditions of their fathers, addictions, doubt, and keeping commitments.  You will have to guide them through leaps of faith as you invite them to pray to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet, if the Book of Mormon is true, and if this is indeed God’s kingdom on the earth.  For most this is not a simple path and you have to be creative in helping them find the way.  You may have to use several approaches before the path is lighted for them and then take them through difficult situations to reach the waters of baptism.  You will have to find solutions to their problems as you teach to their needs, personalize the message, and help them understand what will be required of them.  Their safety and salvation are at stake and you symbolically tie them to you and lead them to better lives, saving ordinances, and the ultimate goal of reaching the summit of the celestial kingdom. 

The blessing is you don’t do this work alone.  The Spirit can guide and direct your thoughts as you weekly and nightly plan for them, set goals to help them progress, and find solutions to the challenges they face.   Not only is this guidance there for your investigators, but it also can help you find, work with members, and inspire you in all aspects of the work. 

The Lord is asking you to solve problems, resolve concerns, and be worthy of His Spirit so you can help His children find the path home.  Don’t underestimate the need for you to be creative, solution oriented, and obstacle movers in this work.  You are asked to study things out in your mind so the Spirit can then witness to you the things you should do.  There are often times where there is no easy answer, but if you diligently work with your companion to overcome the problems you face, enough light will be given for you to find the path to bless those you teach.  The key is you must care enough that you go all in to help people find their way.  This can’t be passive discipleship, this is all in, full of faith, tenacious and never quit work.

Want a fun study… read the account of the Brother of Jared in Ether 2 as an example of a great problem solver.  Consider what Nephi did to obtain the brass plates, feed his family, and build a ship.  All of these examples required their own thinking, but they were also blessed with divine guidance.  Will it be any different for you?

Be the kind of missionaries that tenaciously look for ways to get the Lord’s work done.  Don’t settle for the excuses of “we’ve done this or tried that” without finding a way to study it out in your mind and involve the Lord in your efforts.  When it comes to problem solving you should consider every possible options, talk to other missionaries, and find answers.  One of the places you do this is in your district council meetings each week.   You are blessed with power and authority, you can find a way, you can find people to teach, you can help people progress, you can enable members, you can learn the language, you can see people reach the waters of baptism, you can help people to the temple.   None of this comes without effort, but you have been blessed as the Lord’s representatives and in Christ ALL things are possible. 

Keep up the great work, we love you, and the answer to the problem is… you throw the ball straight up in the air.  Yes, the answer was at the bottom of the email, but I was trying to find a solution to get you to read to the end. Did it work? ;)

President Hall