President's Pen 4-9-18 (Strangers?)

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 that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  I am still basking in the glow of the spiritual feast from General Conference last week.  I testify that we have a living prophet on the earth and that God speaks from the heavens.  The Lord, through his prophets, has asked each of us to labor with all our might and to declare repentance and baptism for a remission of sins.  I love that God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow and that He loves all of His children. Let’s go to work!

Each of you are assigned to labor in a specific area of the Lord’s vineyard.  As a companionship, the Lord trusts you to know the vineyard well, to care for it, to work it, and to love it.  You are the only servants who have been given power and authority to care for and harvest the fruit that comes through the work of your hands and hearts.  How well do you know your part of the vineyard and do you feel like you belong to it?

I had an insightful conversation recently with two priesthood leaders regarding missionaries.  It was their observation that there are two kinds of missionaries in a ward/branch… Those who arrive in a ward/branch and become part of it, and those who are strangers, visiting by assignment.  For the first group of missionaries, the bishop becomes their bishop, the relief society sisters become their sisters, the quorum becomes their quorum, the families become their families, and the members are their friends; they are home.  For the second group of missionaries, the ward/branch is somewhere they are assigned, where the work is done, where they wait out their time, and as mercenaries or temporary visitors. 

Their conclusion was that for those missionaries who made the ward/branch their home ward/branch, more success was seen and greater trust was earned.  For the missionaries that had come only by assignment, well, they couldn’t remember their names nor was their influence felt.  I agreed with them and felt inspired to share some thoughts with you…

How do you currently feel about the ward/branch you serve in and have you become a part of it?  When I travel throughout the mission, I am always watching for how missionaries interact with the members.  Recently, I watched a pair of elders not simply hand out the program at the door, but go from pew to pew shaking the hands of each member, welcoming them and connecting.  Their investigator in attendance was sitting with a member, and it was clear that they had planned this interaction long before the meeting.  As the meeting began, these elders separated and sat with other members in the congregation.  Following the meeting, I watched their interaction as connections were made and plans for visits were discussed, and they included the youth.  These elders belonged to their ward, it was their home, and they love it.  You might say, “these elders are probably very outgoing, social, no fear kind of elders.”  Actually, the opposite is true, especially for one who  admittedly does things scared most of time and is not a social butterfly. ☺

I have also observed missionaries who smile and shake hands at the door, but that is where it seemingly ends.  I see them sit with their investigators instead of connecting them to the members.  I see them sit together, often towards the back of the chapel, as if they had just come into the ward as a pair of visitors.  I see very little interaction, other than those few members they have come to know by assignment or by dinner appointment.  These missionaries aren’t bad missionaries, they just haven’t made the ward/branch their own.  They are in the vineyard, but only because that’s where they’re supposed to be.   

In the scriptures we find the word stranger(s) as a term that denotes a foreigner, from another town, someone unknown or unacquainted, a guest or visitor.  It can also be used to denote someone who does not belong to or is kept from the activities of a group.  When we arrive to a ward/branch we arrive as strangers, unknown and unacquainted, but it need not remain so. 

King Benjamin in his inspired address gives us some insight on how one remains a stranger, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” In this context, we understand that we can become strangers to God if we don’t serve Him, come to know Him, or keep Him in mind.   Would the same not be true for us if we choose not to come to know, serve, or have the members in mind in the units where we serve?  As it is says in John, “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5) Do the members know your voice or are you a text message?  Do you make 10 daily member connections that are real, or are they weak sauce lame fry connections?

In Handbook 2, there is some wonderful instruction given on how we can all become ministers and friends and no longer strangers.  Four points for you to consider: 1) remember the names of those we visit and become well acquainted with them (see Moroni 6:4) 2) love them without judging them (see John 13:34–35). 3) watch over them and strengthen them spiritually “one by one” (3 Nephi 11:15; 17:21) and 4) become friends with them and visit them often (see D&C 20:47).  This is inspired instruction and will bless you in any ward/branch you serve in throughout your life, not just your mission.  There is no such thing as a bad ward/branch, what we put into something (friendship, study, efforts, service) is what we get out of it!

The work in the vineyard begins with the bishop or branch president.  If you want to become part of the ward, tell the bishop that you are there to serve, bless, and become his true and devoted servants.  As it says in PMG, “The starting point in building strong relationships with members is the bishop. Offer to help and serve in any righteous way that he asks. Regularly ask yourself, “Am I a blessing or a burden to the bishop?” Develop a “How can I help?” attitude. If you will look for opportunities to love, serve, and teach, the bishop and ward members will be more likely to trust you with their family members and friends.” To emphasize this point, please watch “Working with the Bishop” from District 1 found in your gospel library app.  Will you do it, like right away?  To test your knowledge of who and what you know about the members in the ward (without going to LDS Tools) see if you can complete the attached document as a companionship. ☺

Elders & Sisters, the time you spend in each part of the vineyard, whether brief or long is sacred time.  As we are taught, “Therefore, I, the Lord, have suffered you to come unto this place; for thus it was expedient in me for the salvation of souls.” (D&C 100:4)  When you are assigned to a ward or branch, I can testify it is because I have fasted and prayed to know where the Lord would have you be for the salvation of souls.  I invite you to become member missionaries in the wards/branches you serve.  Learn names, become acquainted, judge righteously, strengthen and watch over one by one, and become friends.  I also invite you to use the principles taught in the Susan Fulcher case, use the family mission plan (both on the portal), and make sure the bishop knows you are his most excited member in the work.  Mass texts, impersonal connections, and distant interaction won’t cut it, we need you to be all in and at home in the ward/branch you have been called to labor in.  I testify in the Savior’s name that we are all brothers and sisters and that there is no need for there to be strangers among us, especially you!  Love ya!

President Hall