Are You Afraid to Ask?
October 1975

“Are You Afraid to Ask?” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 54

Are You Afraid to Ask?

I was afraid! But I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. When others told about discussing the gospel with their friends, it sounded simple. But when I tried to discuss the gospel, it was a different story. When my friend Barbara said churches today have no value or Dave started talking about evolution, giant butterflies orbited inside my stomach, my hands felt soggy, my nerves prickled my skin, and I seemed to lose control of all my muscles—including my tongue.

Everyone knew I am a Latter-day Saint because I don’t drink tea or coffee, and I do have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. But still, I couldn’t say it. When Dave and Barbara propounded their theories, I remained uncomfortably silent and wished I could bear testimony by mental telepathy.

As time passed I began to feel guilty. In self-defense, I hoped that my efficiency as a Sunday School teacher would compensate. But at night those words would ring in my ears: “EVERY member a missionary.”

There are few “born” missionaries, those who are successful because of talent rather than effort. But between the small group of “born” missionaries and the “failures,” there exists another group: successful, self-made missionaries—people who once were afraid like me. People like Sister Jenkins and Brother Clarke, Jane, Michelle, Tom, and even Bishop Baker. They understood my fears, and willingly shared their secrets with me.

“Accomplishment is always preceded by desire,” Sister Jenkins said. “You must want to be a missionary before you can ever be a successful one. I know some people who never think about the influence they could be on others. But you’ve already taken the first step,” she concluded. “You have a desire.”

Michelle is attractive and self-confident without being worldly and egotistical.

“I wasn’t always like I am now,” she told me. “There was a time when I wasn’t very pleased with myself. I was overweight, my clothes were out of date, and my hair was almost impossible to control. Then one of my classes in college motivated me to change my appearance. I lost those extra pounds, made some clothes that were fashionable but still in keeping with Church standards, and found a carefree but attractive way to wear my hair.

“I didn’t try to be someone else. I just made myself into someone I liked. Once I liked myself I was sure others would like me too, and I began to enjoy sharing the gospel.”

Brother Clarke is a popular Gospel Doctrine teacher. “Study!” he said emphatically. “That’s the key to being a good missionary. When I couldn’t explain the gospel to myself, I certainly couldn’t explain it to anyone else. To solve my problem, I diligently studied the scriptures and other Church books. I examined the beliefs of other churches and tried to understand the needs of people around me.

“Because of constant study, my testimony grew. In many instances, knowledge replaced simple faith. Missionary work ceased to be a problem: once I was confident I could answer my friends’ questions.”

“Once you decide to tell someone about the Church, don’t make excuses to back out of your commitment,” Jane stressed. “Don’t rationalize and don’t procrastinate. That’s what I used to do. For a while my justification kept me from feeling guilty, but it didn’t make me a missionary. Set your goals to do missionary work, and then do it.”

Tom confirmed Jane’s secret and added: “I knew I wasn’t a ‘born’ missionary, but I pretended I was. There was nothing hypocritical about this because I constantly worked to improve myself. Pretend you’re a missionary and you’ll be a missionary. I guarantee it!”

Finally I asked Bishop Baker.

“Yes, I was once afraid, too,” he said. “I neglected my missionary responsibilities because I feared choosing the wrong time or the wrong words. The only answer to my problem was prayer. I realized I had to be in tune with the Spirit constantly so I would know if the time was right to present the gospel and if my words were appropriate. Since then, I have seldom been inspired to avoid a religious discussion.”

After I had talked with some self-made missionaries, the rest was up to me.

Sister Jenkins was right. I did have a desire. I analyzed my reflection in the full-length mirror and decided I liked what I saw, but I bought some new shoes and exchanged my old glasses for a pair with gold rims. I began to study the scriptures every day, and became more aware of the needs of people around me. During moments of meditation I would say again and again: “I can … I can … I can …” And I prayed.

Then, one day the time came to DO something. Barbara was philosophizing on her favorite subject: The uselessness of organized religion. Even with all my preparation, I had to summon all my willpower. The butterflies, soggy hands, and tense muscles hadn’t disappeared, but my nerves seemed to tingle instead of prickle and I had control of my tongue. I wondered if the feeling I had was of fear or excitement. Maybe the symptoms are the same.

“Barbara, I understand that you’re against organized religion. But would it make a difference if you knew that the Savior was the one who stands at the head of one of those religions?

“What are you getting at?”

“Well, you know I’m a Latter-day Saint—a Mormon—and we believe that Jesus Christ actually appeared and instigated the organization of the Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is because of Him that we exist as a church.” I looked her in the eye and continued. “Considering these things, would you be interested in knowing more?”

She shook her head, “Nothing against you personal extremity” ly. I just can’t believe it’s true.”

“A lot of people feel that way these days—the idea is so new to them. But I know the Master has established his true church on the earth today. You can come to know it too, if you’ll only investigate it further.”

“Sorry. I’m really not interested.”

Should I say any more? I wondered. I tried to tune in with the Spirit, and the answer came: You’ve done all you can for now, but don’t be afraid to ask her again in the future.

Dave had been on vacation and I waited anxiously for him to return. He was always willing to discuss religion and I had decided it was time for me to do something. But when he came back, he was strangely silent. “Pretend …” I told myself, “Pretend `you’re a missionary.”

I met Dave at the water fountain. The butterflies were still there. Will he say no, too? I took a deep breath and began.

“Dave, I’ve wanted to ask you something for a long time. You seem to be interested in religion. Why is it so important to you?”

“Because I want to find the greatest happiness in life—and religion seems to point the way.”

“Have you ever looked at the Mormons? I think you’ll find that they are about the happiest people around.”

“Well, I know you’re a Mormon, and if they’re all like you, it must be true.”

I inwardly rejoiced because I had set a good example.

“Dave, we’re happy because we know there is a prophet on the earth today—a man every bit as much a prophet as Moses or Abraham or Isaiah—and we know if we follow his counsels we will be truly following the Savior. Would you be interested in learning more about this great message?” My heart pounded during the two or three seconds of silence.

“Yes,” he said. “I would. In fact. I’ve been very curious about what you believe and had almost given up hope of getting any information from you. Why did you take so long to ask?”

  • Linda Archibald, a homemaker and free-lance writer, serves as Young Women’s president and Relief Society social relations leader in the Second Ward, Johannesburg South Africa Slake.

Photography by Longin Lonczyna, Jr.